I've been reading through the parables of Jesus lately and have been again greatly challenged by Jesus' teaching. How fascinating to see Him engage with others and instruct them in the ways of the Kingdom, of grace, and of judgment. Parables aren't always the easiest things to understand but they truly are packed with beauty and significance and grace.
However, there's a troubling theme I've picked up on (with the help of commentators) as I've navigated through these passages. It seems that the salvation God deals in comes in some strange and uncomfortable packaging - the last, the lost, the least, the little, and dare I say the dead. This is always hard for me to comprehend. I was brought up and instructed in a Christianity that taught strength, success, victory, overcoming, accomplishment, triumph, power, winning, etc. Of course, it's true that Jesus did all that, but only through the means of weakness, suffering, death, and resurrection. I was also trained for ministry in this same vein ... the minister and the church must be strong, successful, powerful, significant, effective, etc. Of course, all those terms are Biblical and good ... but not when we define them from a worldly perspective where they become harmful and destructive to the purposes of the Kingdom.
I believe most all of us can relate to the parable in Luke 12:13-21. It's a fairly straightforward story of a farmer who has had a bountiful harvest, so much so that it creates a storage problem. His solution was to tear down the old barns and build larger ones which, by the way, sounds like a very reasonable and logical decision. Jesus then imagines the conversation this man has with himself - "You know, I have plenty and it's time to relax, eat, drink, and be merry." Before we start applying this to someone else we need realize we all dream of "bigger barns" to store up our stuff ... i.e. there are more self-storage units in the US than there are McDonald's and Starbucks combined. Of course, Jesus goes on to say that abundance of stuff doesn't define or add to our lives at all. I see myself in this farmer (often identified as the "rich fool"). Though my land produced an abundant harvest I'm not thankful ... I proceed as if it was about me rather than the One who blessed me (note Jesus' repeated use of "I" when describing the man). I worry about protecting my stuff more than addressing the needs of others. I'm very self-absorbed because I view everything as it relates to my comfort. This farmer in the parable and I do exactly what the world insists that we do ... cling tightly to life! Jesus then highlights the foolishness of this man and clearly notes that no matter how tightly he was holding on to his stuff, when he dies it's all gone. He spent his life doing and accumulating stuff that, in the end, amounted to nothing.
In God's economy things are totally upside down: poverty, not abundance, is the way of contentment ... others, not myself, is the path of joy ... weakness, not strength, is the means of success ... death, not life, is the way of Christianity.
So, are you willing to be the last, the lost, the least, the little ... and take up your cross today and die?