On weaponising the words of Jesus –  a modern retelling of an old parable

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I came across this twitter thread today. 

It’s not always easy to be certain when dealing with subtweets but I have an inkling that the target of the thread is Kevin DeYoung who recently wrote an article on The Gospel Coalition website about what it means (and doesn’t mean) to “weep with those who weep.” The backdrop to KDY’s article is another little debate going on concerning empathy. I’m going to discuss KDY’s article a little later on in the week.

However, at this stage, I wanted just to talk about the use and misuse of parables. It’s a neat trick isn’t it? To take a parable of Jesus and modernise it putting contemporary actors into the key parts in Jesus’ story. However, there is a danger with it as well. You see, the tactic cuts both ways.

Suppose I retell the story like this.

There was a certain young lady travelling on the London Underground towards Kings Cross. They got off to change train at Liverpool Street station where they were mugged. Their purse and phone were stolen.  They were crying, sobbing and approaching strangers asking them for the train fare home or at least to borrow their phone to make a call but everyone gave her a wide berth. 

A young, with it, woke Christian was passing by. They saw what was happening but they were in a hurry to get to the Extinction Rebellion protest. Of course they were concerned about the person, weeping, bleeding and distressed. However, this person knew that to stop and help was simply like sticking a plaster on an open wound. They decided to prioritise the major structural changes that would secure this young lady a better long-term future. So they hurried on, certain that the distressed person would understand.

Then, a church leader came past. They were well known for speaking out on social media about compassion and justice. However, they were so absorbed on twitter debating with a nasty American culture warrior who had just claimed that empathy was a sin.  They were so aborbed in the argument that they didn’t even see or hear the distressed young lady.[1]

Finally, a conservative evangelical banker came by. He had just been to a lunch time talk at one of those big posh churches in the city. The talk had been very engaging and helpful. He’d been strongly reminded that we shouldn’t get distracted by the social gospel.  He heard the girl crying and saw her approaching people. He was a bit apprehensive. Begging seemed to be getting more aggressive these days. He knew that she would probably give the majority of whatever she managed to get to her handler and spend the rest on drugs.  He suspected that she wasn’t in the right state of mind to engage with the apologetic stuff he’d been learning and he was also a bit wary of what people would assume if he stopped to talk to her. 

However, something cut to his heart. He wasn’t sure if she was being sincere. Yet he stopped to ask if she was okay. Through the tears he managed to make out her story.  She gave him the number of a friend. He phoned them and they said they were in and she could go to theirs and be looked after.  So he said, let’s get you a take out coffee and a cake. You are obviously very shaken up.  I’ll call us a cab and when we get to your friend’s we’ll call the bank to get your cards cancelled.[2]

I mean, it feels like a legitimate take on the original story doesn’t it.  You see in Jesus’ parable those who passed by were those who you might expect to know what it meant to be righteous and in fact sought to teach others how to be righteous. Yet they turned the very thing that called them to righteous living and told them how to love their neighbour into an obstacle. The twist is that it was the one who was assumed to be ignorant of God’s ways and righteousness, the one who was the subject of suspicion, ire and condemnation who stopped to do right, to love their neighbour.[3]

The moral of my version of the parable is “those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”  It is far too easy for us to take the words of Jesus and use them to condemn and attack others. We weaponise his teaching in our conflicts with our brothers and sisters.  In so doing, we miss their purpose and blunt their effect in our own lives.

Mike Ovey used to ask “are you willing to let God’s Word disagree with you?” It’s an important challenge for each of us. Instead of weaponising Jesus’ parables against each other, we should allow them to cut into our own hearts so that he can change us.

[1] Okay give me some artistic licence here. I know that you can’t get signal down in the bowels of the underground network!

[2] I n a final twist to our story unfortunately the cab was held up in a traffic jam caused by the Extinction Rebellion protest.

[3] Note I’m not saying here that this is the main point of the parable, I’m merely showing how the shock value functions in the story.

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