Parables for Our Times

I just finished reading The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales, a book of parables by Peter Rollins. Rollins uses the term “tales” rather than “parables” to describe the short stories he presents, each with its own commentary that invites further reflection by the reader.

The invitation to reflection is one that should not be ignored. This is not a book that should be read in one or two sittings. Rather, the idea is to really sit with each tale, exploring what it has to say to one.

Many of the tales are based on actual Gospel accounts and parables – the feeding of the multitude, the Prodigal Son, Jesus’ instruction to go two miles when one is asked to go one mile – but modified in a way to try to bring home some point of Jesus’ teaching in a different manner than the original story.

Thus, for example in Jesus and the Five Thousand (A First-World Translation), Jesus and his disciples, finding only five loaves of bread and two fishes, gather from the people whatever food the crowds had brought to sustain themselves. Then, “Jesus and his friends ate like kings in full view of the starving people” and “when they had finished the massive banquet there were not even enough crumbs left to fill a staving person’s hand.” Rollins clearly wants us to be shocked when we read this – since we know Jesus would never act in this way. Yet, as Rollins suggests in his commentary, we are Christ in the world today. And “if Christ is proclaimed int he life of his followers…then we must stop, draw breath, and ask ourselves whether [this] tale reflects how Christ is presented to the world today, at least in the minds of those who witness the lifestyle of Christians in the West.”

Whether his tales are drawn from the Bible or fully from his imagination, each offers much to think about. Particularly powerful for me were the tales designed to get us to reflect on the radical portrayed by Jesus, an unconditional forgiveness that comes before any act of the sinner. It is precisely our knowledge that Jesus loves and accepts us as we are that allows real conversion to take place in our hearts.

In a related vein, another tale highlights the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation, the latter of which clearly does carry a precondition of an offering of repentance. Rollins’ commentary on that theme in a story titled The Empty Exchange do a better job than many theological explanations of helping one understand the value of the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation.

In one way or another, each of the stories offers a road to deepened discipleship. While Rollins is reluctant to use the term parable to describe his tales, humbling declaring it is not for him to judge whether they succeed in doing the job parables are intended to do, they are, indeed, parables for our time.

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