Weekly Sermon Illustration: The Sheep from the Goats

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic. 

Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Reign of Christ. Here is this week's reading from the gospel of Matthew:

Matthew 25:31-46

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

The following excerpt is from Buechner's book, The Faces of Jesus:

In one of the most powerful passages in the Gospels, Jesus while still on earth foretells this scene of the Last Judgment. All the nations of the earth are drawn up before the Son of Man, he says, and the Son of Man will separate them from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. It is the principle by which he separates them that split history in two. Placing the souls of the righteous on his right hand, he says to them, "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me," and when the righteous turn to him and ask when they can ever have had the opportunity to do such things for him, he answers them by saying, "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." And then the unrighteous, of course. "I was hungry and you gave me no food," he says—thirsty, a stranger, naked and sick and in prison—and to their shuddering question Lord, when? he has a shuddering answer: "As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me."

Thus for Jesus the only distinction between men that ultimately matters seems to be not whether they are churchgoers or non-churchgoers, communists or capitalists, Catholics or Protestants or Jews, but do they or do they not love - love not in the sense of an emotion so much as in the sense of an act of the will, the loving act of willing another's good even, if need arise, at the expense of their own. "Hell is the suffering of being unable to love," said old Father Zossima or, as John puts it in his first epistle, "He who does not love remains in death." It is no wonder that enthroned in the ivory diptych with his mother on her knees at his side, Jesus throws up his hands in dismay. 

As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. Just as Jesus appeared at his birth as a helpless child that the world was free to care for or destroy, so now he appears in his resurrection as the pauper, the prisoner, the stranger: appears in every form of human need that the world is free to serve or to ignore.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Deborah

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic. 

Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.  Here is this week's reading from the book of Judges:

Judges 4:1-7

The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, after Ehud died. So the LORD sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years. At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, "The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you, 'Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin's army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.'"

The following article was originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words:

Deborah was Israel's only woman judge. She looked like Golda Meir and did business under a palm tree. Her business consisted of more than just stepping in and settling things when people got in a wrangle. Like all the other judges of Israel, she was loaded with charisma, and whenever there was any fighting to be done, she was the one who was in charge. Even generals jumped when she snapped her fingers. Barak, for instance.

She summoned him to the palm tree and told him she wanted him to take ten thousand of his best men and beat the stuffing out of the Canaanite forces under a general named Sisera. Barak said he'd do it but indicated he'd feel more secure if Deborah came along. She said she would. She also said it was only fair to warn him, however, that the main glory of the day was going to be not his but a woman's because a woman was going to be the one to wipe out Sisera. In addition to her other hats, Deborah was also something of a prophet and had pronounced feminist sympathies.

Her prediction turned out to be correct, of course. Barak won the battle, but Sisera was disposed of by a lady named Jael in a rather spectacular way, which can be read about later in this book, and to make sure that Jael got all the credit that was coming to her, Deborah wrote a song to help spread the word around.

It is a wonderful song, full of blood and thunder with a lot of hair-raisingly bitter jibes at the end of it about how Sisera's old mother sits waiting at the window for her son to come home, not knowing that Jael has already made mincemeat of him. Deborah composed it, but she got Barak to sing it with her. Barak looked like Moshe Dayan, and it must have been quite a duet. The song brushes by Barak's role rather hastily, but it describes Jael's in lavish detail and must have gotten her all the glory a girl could possibly want. Yahweh himself gets a plug at the end—"So perish all thine enemies, O Lord!" (Judges 5:31)—but by and large the real hero of Deborah's song is herself. Everything was going to pot, the lyrics say, "until you arose, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel" (5:7), and you can't help feeling that Deborah's basic message was that Mother was the one who really saved the day. And of course, with Yahweh's help, she was.

It's hard not to bridle a little at the idea of her standing under the palm tree belting out her own praises like that, but after all, she had a country to run and a war to fight, and she knew that without good press she was licked from the start. Besides maybe the more self-congratulatory parts of her song were the ones that she assigned to Barak.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Once Upon A Time Is Our Time

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic. 

Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost.  Here is this week's reading from the gospel of Matthew:

Matthew 25:1-13

"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."

The following excerpt from "The Truth of Stories" was originally published in The Clown in the Belfry and later in Secrets in the Dark:

It is too bad we know Jesus's stories so well, or think we do. We have read them so often and heard them expounded in so many sermons that we have all but lost the capacity for hearing them even, let alone for hearing what they are really about. His stories are like photographs that have been exposed to the light so long they have faded almost beyond recognition. They are like family anecdotes so ancient and time-honored we groan at their approach. And what a pity that is when you think what rich stories they are till preachers start making a homiletic shambles of them-so full of surprises and sudden reversals and sad Jewish comedy before people start delivering sermons about them.

The worst of it, of course, is the way we think we know what Jesus's stories mean. Heaven knows people like me who ought to know better have explained the life out of them often enough, have tried so hard to pound the point in that more often than not all you can hear is the pounding. The story about the good Samaritan, for instance. Is the point of it that our neighbor is anybody who needs us and that loving our neighbor means doing whatever needs to be done even if it costs an arm and a leg to do it? That is a good point as points go, but does getting it mean that now we can move on to the next story? How about the one about the wise women who fill their lamps with oil and the foolish ones who forget to, so that when Love himself looms up out of the night with vine leaves in his hair and his eyes aflame, they are left in the dark while the others go in to the marriage supper to have the time of their lives. Having gotten whatever the point of that one is, can we move on again and suck the next one dry?

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Joshua

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic. 

Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost. Here is this week's reading from the book of Joshua:

Joshua 3:7

The LORD said to Joshua, "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses."

The following was originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words:

Moses was a hard act to follow. After the tired old man breathed his last on the slopes of Mt. Pisgah overlooking the Promised Land, which he never quite made it to, the job of leading the Israelites on in fell to Joshua. Since the Promised Land was inhabited by a group of native Canaanite tribes who weren't about to give it up without an argument, the result was years of war at its crudest and most savage. And in the eyes of Joshua and his people, it wasn't just any old war. It was a holy war. It was Yahweh they were fighting for, because the land they were out to get, come hell or high water, was the land that centuries before, in Abraham's time, Yahweh had promised them so they could settle down in it and become a great nation and a blessing to all nations. Prisoners weren't supposed to be taken, and spoils weren't supposed to be divided, because Yahweh was the one they all belonged to. Ai, Jericho, Gibeon—cities fell like clay pigeons at Joshua's feet, and everything that would burn was put to the torch, and everything that wouldn't, like men, women, and children, was put to the sword. Holy wars are the unholiest kind.

The battle at Gibeon was one of the worst parts of it. Five Amorite kings were drawn up against the Israelites, and Joshua launched his attack just before dawn. His men leapt out of the mists with a terrible light in their eyes. There was a wild storm with hailstones as big as hand grenades. The Amorites panicked. The slaughter was on. It was a long, bloody massacre, and in order to have enough daylight to finish it by, Joshua fixed the sun with his stern military gaze and gave it his orders.

"Sun, stand thou still at Gibeon!" he said (Joshua 10:12), and because he was in command of the operation and because Yahweh was in command through him, the sun snapped to attention and kept shining till the job was done. It was the longest day on record, and when it was finally over, the ground was strewn with the dead, and the mutilated bodies of the five kings were hanging from five trees like meat in a butcher shop.

With one exception, there was nothing that Joshua hadn't been able to see in the prolonged and relentless light the sun had supplied him with. The one exception was that the God he was fighting for was the God of the Amorites too, whether they realized it or not. But Yahweh saw it and brooded over it and more than a thousand years later, through the mouth of his Anointed, spoke about it.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted," he said (Matthew 5:4), and then he also blessed the peacemakers, so that even without any extra sunshine everybody would be able to see that peace is better than even the holiest wars, especially the kind of peace that not even a holy terror like Joshua can either give or take away.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: We All Must Live In Faith

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic. 

Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost.  Here is this week's reading from the book of Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 34:1-5

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The LORD said to him, "This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, 'I will give it to your descendants'; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there." Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord's command.

The following excerpt, from "The Road Goes On," first appeared in A Room Called Remember and later in Listening to Your Life:

Christ is our employer as surely as the general contractor is the carpenter's employer, only the chances are that this side of Paradise we will never see his face except mirrored darkly in dreams and shadows, if we're lucky, and in each other's faces. He is our general, but the chances are that this side of Paradise we will never hear his voice except in the depth of our own inner silence and in each other's voices. He is our shepherd, but the chances are we will never feel his touch except as we are touched by the joy and pain and holiness of our own life and each other's lives. He is our pilot, our guide, our true, fast, final friend and judge, but often when we need him most, he seems farthest away because he will always have gone on ahead, leaving only the faint print of his feet on the path to follow. And the world blows leaves across the path. And branches fall. And darkness falls. We are, all of us, Mary Magdalene, who reached out to him at the end only to embrace the empty air. We are the ones who stopped for a bite to eat that evening at Emmaus and, as soon as they saw who it was that was sitting there at the table with them, found him vanished from their sight. Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Rahab, Sarah are our brothers and sisters because, like them, we all must live in faith, as the great chapter puts it with a staggering honesty that should be a lesson to us all, "not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar," and only from afar. And yet the country we seek and do not truly find, at least not here, not now, the heavenly country and homeland, is there somewhere as surely as our yearning for it is there; and I think that our yearning for it is itself as much a part of the truth of it as our yearning for love or beauty or peace is apart of those truths. And Christ is there with us on our way as surely as the way itself is there that has brought us to this place. It has brought us. We are here. He is with us—that is our faith—but only in unseen ways, as subtle and pervasive as air. 

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Render Unto Caesar

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic. 

Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost. Here is this week's reading from the gospel of Matthew: 

Matthew 22:15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

The excerpt below was originally published in Buechner's novel Love Feast, which was later combined with three additional novels to form The Book of Bebb:

The excerpt is part of a conversation between Sharon and Antonio (the narrator) discussing the latest fiasco that Leo Bebb (a.k.a. Bip) has gotten himself into.

I was fixing to give you a call one of these days," Sharon said, lighting what I took to be one of Anita Steen's king-size Winstons. "Bip's got me worried half sick."

"Bip's fine," I said. "He's the belle of Princeton. There's nothing to worry about."

She said, "Did he tell you the new one he's pulling on the IRS this year?"

I said, "He doesn't tell me the time of day any more. He's too busy with the Pepsi generation."

"You're lucky," she said. "He's been on the IRS shit-list for years, and this time he's really stuck his neck out. He was so tickled he called me up special just to read it out over the phone."

I said, "Read what out?"

"His tax form," she said. "He's filled out his tax form this year like he wasn't filling it out for himself but he was filling it out for Jesus. Right down the line, that's how he's done it. Like where it says put down your first name, he's put down the first name Jesus, and where it says last name, he's put down, 'I am the first and the last, says the Lord.'"

She said, "The place where it says wages, he's put down 'The wages of sin is death.' He's filled out that whole thing with words out of Scripture like it was Jesus filling it out, 'Render unto Caesar' and all that stuff. He says all his income, it's going out for Jesus, so why not send it in like it was Jesus's income. He was pleased as punch when he read it over the phone.

"This time they're going to get him," she said. "They're going to jail him sure. The best he can hope for is they'll pack him off to the funny farm."

"He's been in worse spots," I said.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Aaron

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic. 

Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost. Here is this week's reading from the book of Exodus: 

Exodus 32:1-4

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, "Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." Aaron said to them, "Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!"

Here is an article on Aaron, first published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words:

Moses was three years younger than his brother, Aaron, but starting with the day Pharaoh's daughter fished him out of the bulrushes and adopted him, Moses was the one who always got the headlines while Aaron got the short end of the stick. Even when Moses had to clear out of Egypt for doing in an Egyptian Jew-baiter, he landed on his feet by marrying the daughter of a well-heeled sheep rancher across the border.

Aaron, in the meanwhile, went quietly off into the ministry, where in the long run he didn't do so badly either, except that the only people who ever heard about him were the ones who turned to the religion section on the back pages. Moses, on the other hand, was forever making the cover. The payoff came around the time Moses hit eighty, and out of a burning bush God himself voted him Man of the Year. As usual, Aaron had to be content with playing second fiddle, which he did well enough until he got the break he'd been waiting for at last, and then he blew it.

With Moses lingering so long on Mt. Sinai that some thought he'd settled down and gone into real estate, the people turned to Aaron for leadership, and in no time flat—despite an expensive theological education and all those years in denominational headquarters—he had them dancing around the Golden Calf like a bunch of aborigines.

Nobody knows whether this was Aaron's way of getting even with his kid brother for all those years of eating humble pie, or whether he actually believed with the rest of humankind that a God in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Press On

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic. 

Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost.  Here is this week's reading from the book of Philippians: 

Philippians 3:4b-14 

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 

Here is an excerpt from the sermon The Message in the Stars, first published in The Magnificent Defeat and later in Secrets in the Dark: 

All the absurd little meetings, decisions, inner skirmishes that go to make up our days. It all adds up to very little, and yet it all adds up to very much. Our days are full of nonsense, and yet not, because it is precisely into the nonsense of our days that God speaks to us words of great significance—not words that are written in the stars but words that are written into the raw stuff and nonsense of our days, which are not nonsense just because God speaks into the midst of them. And the words that he says, to each of us differently, are "Be brave … be merciful … feed my lambs … press on toward the goal."

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Godric's Prayer

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost.  Here is this week's reading from the book of Psalms: 

Psalm 25:1-7

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness' sake, O LORD!

The following excerpt was originally published in Godric and later in Listening to Your Life:

"Be fools for Christ," said the Apostle Paul, and thus I was thy bearded Saxon fool and clown for sure. Nothing I ever knew before and nothing I have ever come to know from then till now can match the holy mirth and madness of that time. Many's the sin I've clipped to since. Many's the dark and savage night of doubt. Many's the prayer I haven't prayed, the friend I've hurt, the kindness left undone. But this I know. The Godric that waded out of Jordan soaked and dripping wet that day was not the Godric that went wading in.

O Thou that asketh much of him to whom thou givest much, have mercy. Remember me not for the ill I've done but for the good I've dreamed. Help me to be not just the old and foolish one thou seest now but once again a fool for thee. Help me to pray. Help me whatever way thou canst, dear Christ and Lord. Amen.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Parable

In our blog post every Monday, we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost.  Here is a reading from the gospel of Matthew: 

Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

The following excerpt called "Parable" was originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words:

A parable is a small story with a large point. Most of the ones Jesus told have a kind of sad fun about them. The parables of the Crooked Judge (Luke 18:1-8), the Sleepy Friend (Luke 11:5-8), and the Distraught Father (Luke 11:11-13) are really jokes in their way, at least part of whose point seems to be that a silly question deserves a silly answer. In the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), the elder brother's pious pique when the returning Prodigal gets the red-carpet treatment is worthy of Moliere’s Tartuffe, as is the outraged legalism of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) when Johnny-come-lately gets as big a slice of the worm as the early bird. The point of the Unjust Steward is that it’s better to be a resourceful rascal than a saintly schlemiel (Luke 16:1-8) and of the Talents that, spiritually speaking, playing the market will get you further than playing it safe (Matthew 25:14-30). Both the sadness and the fun are at their richest, however, in the parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:16-24). The “beautiful people” all send in their excuses, of course—their real estate, their livestock, their sex lives—so the host sends his social secretary out into the streets to bring in the poor, the maimed, the blind, the lame.