Last Sunday our Sunday School class started one of those short ‘fill-in’ classes to take up the last few weeks of summer. Someone – our minister, I presume – found four, short feature style modern day parables.
The first one was very good – well written, well acted. The plot was neither trite nor ‘preachy’ as that sort of thing often is. The development was very moving. It explored, in some depth for a short feature, the intricacy of feelings surrounding an intra-family betrayal and forgiveness situation. You might say it covered in a very general way the matters of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son.
Many characters had, as you would expect, all sorts of strong emotional ‘baggage’ that that some explored and ‘resolved’ and others did not. In fact, those characters who ‘explored and resolved’ were portrayed as being somehow more ‘in touch’ with God. This made me think of how different our story-telling-for-a-purpose is from that of Jesus.
Consider Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. The characters say things and do things. Some of what they say and do allows us to infer with some degree of certainty how they were ‘feeling.’ For example, when the older son complains about his father celebrating the return of the wayward younger son, it seems very obvious that there was more than a bit of jealousy involved. But notice how the ‘feeling’ side of that is not explored in detail. No character is portrayed in the self-examination of emotional states. No one even mentions anything like ‘unresolved jealousy.’
The examination of ‘feelings’ is a modern obsession, but that is not my point here. Instead, I was reminded by all this of the conceptual, world-view distance between us and the Biblical setting. It is a warning that we have a lot of work to do when we attempt to understand and apply the Bible to our world.
This is not to say that there is anything necessarily wrong with a modern parable using our culture’s tendency toward psychoanalysis to captivate an audience. But if we come to expect that of the Bible, or especially if we attempt to impose that approach on the Bible, we will greatly handicap ourselves in the journey toward Biblical understanding.