The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus. It is this, in a nutshell: Jesus was proclaiming a different world, the "kingdom" or empire of God, in opposition to the one of the ruling emperor, Caesar. There was widespread belief that the messiah would do this by cleaning up the world for God in a violent way, by overthrowing the conquerors and restoring the kingdom to Israel. But that wasn't Jesus's idea. The empire of God, he wanted to teach, was nonviolent, and achieving it had to be non-violent. In fact, God does intend to "clean up" the world, but it is going to require the peaceful cooperation of humanity to achieve it. The "apocalypse" will be participatory and distributive: the economy will change to benefit everyone so that all have enough, and the empire of God will be brought by way of an understanding of the God-emperor as Abba, the Father, an understanding that will guide human behavior so that we will treat each other as brothers and sisters who imitate a model parent, acting with love toward one another, loving each other with a love like self-love that seeks good for the other person, seeking to serve rather than to rule. In order to teach that kind of a participatory world, that kind of empire of mutuality, he needed a pedagogy that was participatory. Parables invite us into that kind of world, a world where we have to make decisions at crisis points that change our understanding of who we are and what we are supposed to do.
There is much to support this idea as well in Amy-Jill Levine's new parable study, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi. Casting aside interpretations of parables that perpetuate an idea of Jesus that serves the agenda of supercessionism or assume evidence not in the stories themselves, she seeks to get us to deal with the parables as invitation into a new way of thinking, paradigm-shaking stories that provoke us into taking responsibility for the world, reshaping our economic and social relationships with one another.
As I was thinking about this weekend's beautiful scriptures, it occurred to me, steeped as I have been through the good fortune of having been shaped by the example and preaching of team members and vision of the late North American Forum on the Catechumenate, that the way Jesus spread the gospel, that is, the good news of the arrival of the reign or empire of God, was to invite people to try it out, in today's reading, for instance, by the invitation to "come and see" where he lives. "Where" Jesus lives is in the reign of God. Yes, on that day, perhaps for those months or years, it was in a house in Capernaum, but as Andrew, his unnamed friend, and soon Peter and Philip were about to find out, "where Jesus lives" was in an alternative kingdom, as close to the old one as turning around and looking in another direction. Where Jesus lives is in the reign of God.
Do you want to see what John was talking about, Jesus says to Andrew? Come and see. Walk with me. Eat with me. Talk with me. Let's start something together. I can't tell you about it; you've got to experience it for yourself, because it's so wonderful you will want to bring others to the table.
Evangelization isn't an idea. It's an encounter with a person. The gospel is a way of life, and it is a way of life that we undertake together, with Christ. Even Jesus did not attempt to go it alone. It's hearing Jesus say to us, as I've put it before, "How's that other god you're worshiping working out for you? How's that imperial peace make you feel? How's that kingdom of fear and hoarding and weapons and threats working out for you? I have another way, another emperor, another "kingdom," and it doesn't look like the one you're used to, but it's as close as turning around. Come and see. Let's try it out together.
The author of the gospel of John has just finished that soaring prologue that testifies that the Word of God, with God from the beginning and so close as to be the same being, became a human person and pitched a tent among us. Jesus reveals in his humanity what God is like: inviting, seeking collaboration, the origin and source of "light for the human race." At the outset of his public ministry, Jesus gathers a few people around him, inviting them into his house. Why did they go? They must have felt the pull toward that other empire, the other God, the one who had, in their celebrated but distant past, delivered their ancestors from Pharaoh, the god of Egypt. Like Samuel, roused from sleep by hearing the sound of his own name, those called by Jesus awaken to a wondrous vocation that might yet remake the world.
So Sunday, a billion Catholics and other Christians will sing together, "Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will." I hope that their pastors tell them to listen to their own voices, to hear those dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of hearts singing with others across the planet, and offer there and understand the call of Jesus to "come and see," to sit together in the house at Capernaum, hear the offer of a better God, a better empire, and a better life, and take a step on the Way. All that is required is to "repent and believe the gospel." Turn around, and live like a family instead of rivals. We don't have that much time. Let's not waste it.
What we're singing at St. Anne this week:
Entrance: Here I Am, Lord (Schutte) With its echoes of 1 Samuel in the refrain, Dan's beloved song will call us to worship and sharpen the ears of our hearts to hear the word of God.
St. Ann Glory: a simple rite of candidacy for our children preparing for first Eucharist will take place as their parents bless them with baptismal water as we sing the Gloria.
Psalm 40: Here I Am. We will sing the setting I wrote a million years ago at St. Mary's Seminary in Perryville, MO. I wrote more about this when writing about the recording it was on, Cries of the Spirit, Volume 1.
Preparation of Gifts: Gathered and Sent (Cooney, publication in process) This song is part of the collection of songs in preparation at GIA right now. I wrote it for Bill Fraher, who commissioned it a few years ago for Old St. Patrick's at Pentecost. For today, I think it looks forward from this first "gathering" of disciples to their being sent into the world after the resurrection. It's no different for us who gather every Sunday and who are sent back into our lives to continue to choose the empire of God over selfish, bloody options offered by civilization. "Once, we were no people; / Now, we are people of God, / Gathered by grace, sent by the gospel. Gathered and sent for the world."
Communion: Lord, When You Came (Pescador de Hombres) Gabaraín. Probably everybody in the country is singing this today! And a few other countries as well.
Recessional: The Summons (Bell). Probably spells out the wonder and challenge of the call of Jesus as well as any worship song can, with a singable and inviting melody to help us sing it well together.