Of all the possible texts for preaching sermons, some of my favorites are the parables. Of course, that sort of pointed story was Jesus’ favorite method of teaching; he would sometimes end a story by saying, “Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!” There are parables in the Hebrew scriptures as well, such as the Fable of Jotham in the ninth chapter of the book of Judges, in which Jotham mocks the choice of Abimelech as king, through an entertaining story about the trees looking for a leader.
Beware, however: Parables can be dangerous. They can sneak past your defenses like a literary Trojan Horse. Once inside, they suddenly reveal the truth about you, and so they can wreak havoc.
The word comes from the roots, para bollo — to “throw beside.” A parable is a story that takes an insight and throws it a little “to the side.” This reminds me of a little game we used to play when I was a younger, called “Donkey.”
In case you’ve never played Donkey, you get in a circle and randomly throw a ball to each other. The object is to catch the ball when it is thrown to you. If you drop the ball, you get a “D.” Drop it again, and get an “O.” Drop it six times, and you’ve spelled “DONKEY”, and you’re out of the game.
Now, there’s a secret to winning at Donkey. Don’t throw the ball directly to a player. Don’t throw it so far away that they can’t reach it and call foul. The secret is to throw the ball a little to the side, so that they have to move to get it.
So do you get it? That’s the way a parable works. It is a little story that takes the truth of things and passes it to you “a little to the side” so that you have to think a little. The story throws you a little off balance, so that you have to “move” to get it.
That’s why a parable is dangerous; once you hear a parable — really hear it — you may never be the same. That Trojan Horse of a story has found its way into your inner sanctum, making its way past your defenses, and understanding its message means that you have to move, you have to change.
This leads me to think of what I am called to do, week by week. As a preacher, my calling is to tell the truth. Sometimes the truth is comforting. Sometimes the truth hurts. There is an old saying: “A sermon should comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.”
But my job is to take Truth, and pass it to a congregation full of people who have on their spiritual catcher’s mitts, and I hope they catch it.
One thing I must never do is throw a fastball directly to the face; that disrespects the listener. I also must not throw the truth so far away that the listener can’t “get it.” That’s when people say, “My, wasn’t he intelligent? What exactly did he say?”
Rather, I aim just to the side. I want the truth to surprise you a little, to catch you off balance — so that you have to move just a little to get it.
Blair Monie is senior pastor of the Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church (phpc.org). The Worship section is a regular feature underwritten by Advocate Publishing and the churches listed on these pages. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202.
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