As we ended the first chapter of Ruth, there was a ray of hope for the two widows. Maybe they would not starve to death after all, since they arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. In Ruth 2, Ruth proposed to pick up leftover grain behind the harvesters and found her way into the field of a man named Boaz. The interaction between Ruth and Boaz on the day they met ended up providing bread for the widows for months to come. Also, they both exhibited a combination of characteristics that we find irresistible, because it reveals the longings of our hearts and points to the one who can satisfy those longings.
In Ruth 1, we meet three men and three women, who suddenly separate, leaving all in apparently impossible situations. By the end of the first chapter, there is a ray of hope for the women but none for the men. Even so, one of the women remains convinced that God is against her, since her life has taken tragic turns. As we face suffering in our own lives, we also can conclude that God is against us, unless we consider what he did by sending his own Son.
The final parable in our summer series appears in Luke 18:1-8. Like last week’s parable, the Parable of the Unjust Judge focuses on the period between Jesus’ first and second comings. It too tells us what to do as we await his return, especially if he seems to delay, and especially if we are suffering unjustly. Things really will turn out well in the end as we persevere in faith until the end.
In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 and in the two preceding parables, Jesus prepared his followers for his absence. He wanted us to know what to do until he returns, even if he delays a long time. As it turns out, he didn’t ask all of us to do great things, but he does expect us to do something with what he had given us. However, before we do something for him, we first need to grasp what he has already done for us.
Although we may overlook occasions when others receive unfair treatment, we become indignant when we think people treat us unfairly. In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus told a parable about the kingdom of God in which he described a situation that doesn’t look fair to us. As it turns out, Jesus used this apparent unfairness to teach us about God’s generosity, which we mistake for unfairness. By exposing our mistake, Jesus reminds us again of our need to receive God’s most generous gift. Listen to Dr. Tim Sansbury of Knox Theological Seminary on this fascinating and disconcerting parable.
In the earlier parables, Jesus left people wondering what he meant. In the latter parables, Jesus was often very direct. For example, in Matthew 21:33-46, Jesus spoke a parable directly against the leaders of the Temple in Jerusalem. They had no problem understanding the parable, but they trapped themselves by their reaction to it. We too need to be careful not to fall into the same trap.
In answer to the grumblings of some religious leaders, Jesus told three parables in Luke 15 about lost and found items: a sheep, a coin, and a son. All of them emphasize the joy of God over bringing one lost person back to himself. The third parable is open-ended, forcing each of us to consider if we are going enter into God’s joyful feast or remain outside.
While attending a meal with religious leaders in Luke 14:1-24, Jesus broke with social norms and caused multiple disruptions. His goal was not to offend but to instruct, first about the use of the Sabbath day and then about the kingdom of God, which he compared to a great banquet. At the end of the parable, the invitation is still going out, so let’s enter while there is room.
One of the most familiar of Jesus’ parables is the Good Samaritan, found only in Luke 10:25-37. Jesus told the parable in a conversation with an expert in the law about how to have eternal life. While the parable’s story line is simple and memorable, it includes twists that turn the whole conversation on its head. Jesus opened the way to eternal life, although it wasn’t quite the way that the expert in the law or anyone else expected.
Every once in a while there comes along an opportunity that is so fabulous that it is too good to pass up. However, such opportunities often require us to give up all our other options and put all our eggs in one basket. In Matthew 13:44-46, Jesus told two very short parables about the kingdom of heaven. In each parable, a man seized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, giving up everything for the sake of gaining very much more.