A Real-Life Parable
The phone rings. A congregation member wants to talk to me about something.
We just started studying the first chapters of Genesis this week, and I shared some rogue thoughts about inspiration, how the Bible came into being, and what that means for us as we approach Genesis. And for the record, I have the gall to believe that my position involves a higher view of inspiration than the dominant, evangelical position. As expected, there was some back-and-forth as I struggled to explain myself in a way that made sense to those present. When we ended that first lesson, I thought I had accomplished that goal.
But this call was from perhaps the most theologically reflective member of that class. And my confession is this: I expected he wanted to continue our conversation on the theology of inspiration. So as I drove over to his house, I sought to ready myself for the potentially divisive theological conversation that I expected.
But when I arrived, I did not encounter division or confrontation on a theological or any other level. Instead, I was bowled over with radical, compassionate love.
See, he had read my newsletter article several weeks before and something unsettled him: he thought I was internalizing responsibility for goings-on that were not my fault. He sensed some stress or maybe exasperation in what I had written, and he wanted me to know that the things that were going on were set into motion years before I arrived on staff.
He cared for me, in the way we think of pastoral care for others. He spoke with passion of our church’s need to rediscover love—love of God and love of one another. And he embodied that love as he cared for me.
“What does this parable mean?” you say.
Here’s what I see. The church (by which I mean the one where I serve and the part of the global church that I know) is where I was when the phone rang. Our energy is spent bracing ourselves against division. When we assemble, much of our attention is devoted to holding our divisions together. We expect conflict. We both fear and anticipate a further fracturing of our churches.
But this is not how it ought to be.
The church should not be like me at the beginning of this parable. The church should be like my friend. It (we) should show radical compassionate love. We should be so attentive to one another that we don’t have to ask for help or seek someone else out to share in our life’s troubles, our sister or brother in faith should notice and initiate contact at the first sign of stress. Does that mean there will be lots of false alarms? Of course. But nothing says love like a false alarm.
In this parable, I see two ways of engaging the world. We can engage with suspicion, our minds polluted with division and controversy as the only way things can be. Or we can engage with radical, compassionate love.
I don’t know of late which path I have followed the most. But I know which path Jesus is following.