Imagine this scene: you’re out with a group of friends. You’re all sitting around a table at a restaurant, and pretty soon someone pipes up with a new joke they’ve recently heard. You listen intently, drawn in as they tell the story. Suddenly, everyone bursts out laughing, but you didn’t realize that the punch line had come yet. You take a split second to realize what’s happening, and you join in the laughter too, having no clue what’s so funny but still wanting to save face.
You didn’t get the joke. Don’t worry, this happens to me all the time.
I’m not very good at riddles, either. It seems like the more obvious that answer is, the less likely that I’ll figure it out. What I’m saying is that sometimes, you just have to spell it out for me.
Now let me be honest. When it comes to reading scripture, I often don’t get it at first. I’ll read Christ’s words, and I often come away thinking, “I’m not really sure I actually just got that.”
Something about a pig eating jewelry and some wine bottles bursting and a really small camel and some vendetta against fig trees and poking my eyes out and wearing yokes. What?
But there’s good news for we who are the thick sculled. Jesus spoke cryptically even to his immediate audience. And he did it on purpose. Why?
Imagine that you were trying to spread a message that turned people’s expectations on their heads, defied traditions, challenged the status quo, and pretty much revolutionized everything. Now imagine that as you did this, there was a psychopathic king with his henchmen hanging all around, and if they got a whiff of the message you came to declare (in Jesus’ case, that he’s the king of the Jews), then they’d pounce. One wrong move in this direction and you’d be run out of town by the mob. A wrong move in the other direction got you thrown in a dungeon.
Safe to say, you might choose your words wisely. You might even encode your sayings with a little wink-wink-nudge-nudge-if-ya-know-what-I-mean sort of thing. This is what Jesus did all the time.
The thing about a really great joke is that when the punchline comes, it actually says more than the sum total of the words. It takes you someplace you didn’t expect, saying more in a few words than others might say in a whole essay.
Parables are like this too.
So you’re lying in bed a few hours later when it suddenly hits you. You get the joke. And it’s hilarious. You can’t believe you didn’t get it before because it seems so obvious now. Part of the genius of Jesus’ parables and sayings are that they say more about life and love and existence than can be held in entire libraries, and yet they do so in just four short books.
So take heart. Chase after the meaning. Dig and wrestle and pray and share and pray some more and read and study and wonder. Because a simple saying about a camel and a needle can teach us a lot more than Dr. Phil and Oprah on their best days.
Jesus said in Matthew 11:15, “He who has ears, let him hear.” So I’ve decided to pray the prayer, “Oh God, gimme some ears to hear! I don’t want to miss this!”
Will you join me?