Matthew chapter 13 begins: “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables.” It goes on to say, “Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing.” (v.34)
Nothing without a parable.
As Matthew describes it, great numbers of people, crowds of people, gathered around Jesus to hear nothing but stories. Stories whose meanings weren’t always entirely clear at first listen but in some imaginative and new way made connections between the everyday world of the people listening and the holy world of the kingdom of God.
The stories themselves weren’t all that mysterious. They were quite ordinary. One notable thing about Jesus’ parables is that they often are drawn from work settings – Day laborers working different hours and all getting the same pay, a merchant discovering a great treasure, a baker who mixes yeast through a whole batch of flour until all the flour is leavened with that little bit of yeast, peasant farmers doing their seasonal planting of seeds.
The mysterious part came in when Jesus would hint that there was more going on in these stories than just common events. The most important word in Jesus’ first parable, the parable of the sower and the four areas where the seeds fall, is the first and last word, which is the same word. Jesus begins this story with the single word. “Listen.” After telling the story, he ends by saying, “Let anyone with ears, listen.” The story is simple, with no kind of interpretation or “faith,” “God,” “kingdom of God” language to be found. Typical of any farmer of the time, a sower sows seeds and tosses them all over the field. They land in different areas and grow with different degrees of success. But listen, Jesus notes. Do you see anything else going on here? Do you hear anything besides a common story? There’s something more.
Embedded in each story was this idea that these ordinary events, such as the domestic and public work we do every day, are full of wisdom and the aliveness of the kingdom of God. We experience the stories everyday, and our challenge is to listen closely to the parables we are living.
So if we take Jesus’ teachings to heart, then it would appear that work is a key place where parables happen.
Rather than go more in depth with the parables of work that Jesus taught, I thought it would be interesting to hear some Cincinnati Mennonite parables. So recently I asked a few CMF folks if they would be willing to listen closely to their work. To listen for parables. I asked each person to reflect on a way that the work they do throughout the day connects with faith, or wisdom, or joy, or an insight they have gained. You’ll notice that these don’t sound like typical parables. They don’t start out “The kingdom of God is like…” and they aren’t trying to tell an allegory about this representing this. They’re reflections.
What makes for a good parable is that there is a connection being made between a story and something deeper, something more, and I have found these all to be insightful parables in that way.
The words all come from these four individuals, but I’ve taken the liberty to give them each a parable-like name and to give a parable-like opening and closing call to “Listen.”
As you listen, perhaps you will experience what Jesus intended for his audiences when he told his parables – that your imagination will be sparked to hear the kingdom of God present in a new way, and that you will see something you didn’t see before, especially as it relates to listening to your own work.
So here they are – Four Working Parables.
The first one comes from Ron Headings. I might call this The Parable of the Grandfathers and Grandson.
Listen. “The nature of work has changed a lot in the past 60 years. If you compare my job today at P&G to the one my grandfathers had as farmers in central Kansas 30 years ago, there are a number of interesting differences.
· My primary tool is a computer, my grandfathers’ primary tool was a combine.
· My primary materials are data and processes, my grandfathers’ materials were plants and animals.
· My hours are governed by the needs of the business; their hours were driven by weather.
· My customers are retailers; theirs were grain elevators and slaughterhouses.
· My job required a post-graduate degree; theirs required eighth grade and some basic common sense.
· My work is mostly mental and my play time is mostly physical; their work was mostly physical and their play time was mostly mental.
· My favorite mode of transportation is an airplane; their favorite mode of transportation was a pickup truck. (My close second choice!)
· I often leave the country for work; they rarely left the county.
This list of day to day aspects of our respective work seems so different, unbelievably changed over the course of only two generations…until you start looking at the values, the things that my grandfathers and I have in common across our vocations, things they taught me without saying a word, and things for which I am forever in their debt:
· The personal fulfillment and sense of accomplishment that we get from our work
· The pride in a job well done, a job beyond expectations
· Achieving a proper balance of work, family, church, and play
· Choosing the right priorities, even when that choice has consequences
· Having a deep passion for work and its intrinsic rewards, and
· Striving to leave the world, including our workplace, as a better place because we were there.
Come to think of it, ALL the truly important things about work, I DO have in common with my grandpas.”
Let those with ears, Listen.
Parable #2 that I’ll call The Parable of the Teacher Who Learns Through Teaching, by Mary Stucky
Listen. “The Germans have a word for accepting – “bejahen” (buh YAH en). I learned early on that the ability to accept another person is integral to being an effective teacher. Young singers simply do not learn from instruction alone. The following true story illustrates this:
Susie had a magnificent voice, and a very “over-the-top” energetic personality to go with the voice. She had the problem of a tight tongue, and would not loosen it, in spite of my instruction. She sounded like she was singing with a peach in her throat! She, of course, could hear herself better when she did this, and she was not about to let me loosen this control device. Out of frustration one day, I stopped the lesson and asked about her friends and her weekend activities. She was DELIGHTED to tell me all about her latest party, the most recent “love of her life”, the shopping spree she was going on the following day, her love for Nietzsche….you name it! After the hour was over, she went away happy, and I was frustrated. However, the next lesson she was transformed. She was cooperative, and was willing to make any technical changes I asked for.
All I did was accept her (“be-jah” her) where she was.
This also relates to my growth in Jesus. Knowing that He accepts me as a person, with all of my tendencies, my faults, and my personality, makes me more willing to be molded by Him and his Way.”
Let those with ears, Listen.
The next reflection comes from Bob Wells. This would be The Shampoo Parable:
Listen. “New Acquaintance: “Where do you work?”
New Acquaintance: “What do you do at P&G?”
Me: “I create the New Improved shampoos and conditioners.”
New Acquaintance: “Oh”
It’s not easy to explain that this pursuit can at times be exciting and rewarding. Not all the time, but enough to have kept me working there longer than most people. And not rewarding as you might expect, such as by getting your “improvement” into a shampoo in stores. Not rewarding either for the pay, wellll, maybe that is important. I’ll get back to how it’s really rewarding in a bit.
It’s exciting when you make a guess, a hypothesis, about something and then are able to show that it’s correct, or when you think you know how to fix a problem that is keeping a product from working well and you try your solution and it works. Or when you learn something that is really new — like would you believe that when you put a shampoo on your hair in the shower and the water dilutes it, the intensity of the fragrance can get stronger. It should get weaker! It’s being diluted! It turns out that some perfumes (not all) will actually get stronger from a shampoo when the shampoo is diluted and discovering this and discovering why is exciting. The perfumes that become stronger when a shampoo is diluted have a structure that allows them to be trapped inside bunches of cleaning molecules in the shampoo. When water dilutes it they are released. You can explain it to your peers and managers to impress them and that’s rewarding.
So, being able, once in a while in your work, to do something really well and to know that others recognize this is what makes work fulfilling for me.”
Let those with ears, Listen.
The final reflection comes from Judy Herbold. I would call this The Healing Hands Parable.
Listen. “My mother was hospitalized in state psych hospitals 50+ years (since I was 6 yrs old). I was her caregiver and overseer of sorts; definitely a reluctant caregiver. Her illness (paranoid schizophrenia) baffled me. It was just in the last 15 years of her life that I began to understand my feelings (fear, sorrow, helplessness, anger) most of which belonged to her. It was so hard to be a loving daughter. Her illness terrified me, her smell and appearance were repelling to me. I felt so ashamed that I responded that way, and on the other hand understood that I was forgiven so I kept searching for a way into the Margaret that I knew to be kind and loving and intensely intuitive and who I knew held me in her heart as if I were The Madonna.
I so wanted to hold her and love her as I would anyone else who were suffering so and who had lost so much. But most of the time that I touched her she would decompensate and start screaming and swearing at me and I’d have to leave.
THEN one day I visited her and told her that I was in Massage School to become a massage therapist. She was courious about what that was and as I reached out and stroked either side of her face, down her neck and shoulders, arms and hands she transformed before me….into a beaming smile that lit her eyes into soft brown pools and her body softened as she slowly uttered “oh, that feels so good”.
From that point on she allowed me to touch her. And our most profound moments were in silence with me stroking her face which she loved the most.
I consider my work to be an affirmation of the Kingdom on earth. When I touch someone through bodywork I am in the presence of their Spirit, physical & psychological self. It is my job to honor the invitation, to be clear about the invitation and to maintain good physical, psychological and spiritual boundaries.
I believe we all have a healer within that when given the gift of total focus will come forth in it’s own perfect time to begin the shift back to balance.
This work has taught me to be more still than I thought possible and totally present without having control. It’s also taught me that when “what my heart wants” gets in the way it’s time to step back and remind myself that what I want for my client is what I WANT. My job is to open the door to the possibility of healing then stand in the breech (keep watch) empty, be still, trust.
Jesus was always touching people through his words and laying on of hands. I believe touch is essential to life. Of the few times there has been a shift, or healing I believe it’s because the client was receptive and believed in the healing power of touch. I don’t believe I heal, I do believe I am a facilitator of that healing.
Let those with ears, Listen.
———- In Scripture, Jesus only gives further commentary on his parables when the disciples come up and ask him to, so if you want to hear more you’ll have to speak to the parable givers. Like every good parable, I have found each of these reflections to help me see and hear the world in a different way, and to think more deeply about the parables that are happening in my own work.
As a way of bringing closure to our reflections on Work, I think it’s appropriate that we offer each other a blessing. Printed in your bulletins you’ll find a blessing that we’ll read together after we sing the response song. Please stand for the song and remain standing for the blessing.