A previous Comic Lens blog, "What Do Jesus and Frank Gorshen Have in Common?" suggests, as the title implies, that Jesus was a riddler, offering terse and pithy teachings (aka “parables”) that appear to be simple and obvious but on second look pose seemingly unsolvable problems. That is, until a terse and pithy explanation is proffered, one that is also surprising, clever, and funny. Like any good punch line.
It's not surprising that Jesus taught in riddles because, let's face it, we love teachers who have a great sense of humor and use it to convey information. We also learn more from funny teachers, because we appreciate the clever approach and, thus, find whatever they're expounding worth remembering. Even if (as was the case with Jesus' riddles/parables), the punch lines stung the hearer's ears with the truth they contained.
Actually maybe that's another of the reasons Jesus taught with humor - it made the often-difficult message a little easier to accept.
One of the tasks of understanding Jesus' parables, therefore, is receiving their punch lines with the same comic force experienced by ancient hearers. This can prove difficult, because humor is quite contextual and much of what Middle Eastern peasants of 2000 years ago would have found funny is lost on 21st century Western sensibilities.
That is why Dr. Doug Adams of the Pacific School of Religion suggested switching out the illustrations Jesus uses with ones more contemporary. Try it! You'll be amazed at how well this works and how funny the punch lines become. And how clear, albeit stinging, the teaching.
Take for example what is often suggested as Jesus "first" parable: "The Parable of the Sower" found in all three "synoptic" gospels at Mark 4:1-9, Luke 8:1-8 and Matthew 13:3-9. Also known as "The Parable of the Soils," it tells the story of a farmer who sows seed upon all sorts of soil, yielding a variety of results. The parable is filled with important allegorical information, tersely and pithily expressed, regarding the life of faith as well as the nature of God. But is it funny?
Switching out the character of a ancient Near Eastern farmer doing what's needed to grow food to feed his family with the character of the 21st Century "single" doing what's needed to feed his hungry heart, we get this, for your edification and enjoyment, as it elucidates the parable in its Matthew 13:3-9 version.
THE PARABLE OF THE SINGLE
A tall, dark, handsome, intelligent, funny and sensitive young man went to a party in the hopes of meeting his one true love. He first was drawn to a tall, lithe, beautiful blond, but she played with him the same flirty games she did with every other man there, and in the middle of their conversation, she excused herself and went over to the bar to have a martini with the sailor who had just goosed her. He then was attracted to a vivacious red-head who possessed an amazing sense of humor, and they hit it off immediately. But all she could do was crack jokes; his interest withered quickly. He moved onto a petite, exotic brunette with whom he could share his most intense, passionate feelings. But when he let slip a word that was apparently politically incorrect, he received not only a severe tongue-lashing but the sum total of her most recent nine months of painful psychoanalytic revelations. Finally, sitting in the corner, he saw a sweet, kind, capable and clean Christian girl with whom he fell deeply in love, and she with him. They were married and lived happily ever after, in true wedded bliss, 100% of the time, 60% of the time, or 30% of the time. Let anyone with ears listen!
I dedicate my work on this parable to all who have struggled with "church growth" books that gush on and on with examples of remarkable success, as well as my father, who can't help but offer snarky comments every time a "Christian Mingle" commercial graces our tv screen.
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