The parables found in Mark 4:1-34 are familiar, but I must admit that I got a bit annoyed when I read the text this time.
Why the word games? Why do some get to understand and others don’t?
Given the oh, so many political and religious pundits, media outlets that have been co-opted by corporate interests and the wealthy, and the gaslighting that happens all over social media—I have little time for riddles—even coming from Jesus!
I was just sharing with a colleague the other day how over the years I have learned to “code-switch.” In my work, I engage with people who live on the streets and those who live in mansions, decision-makers, and the disenfranchised, “believers” and those who won’t have anything to do with the church.
Building relationships is at the center of the work of building the beloved community. Building relationships that are not transactional but truly authentic and transformational requires the ability to communicate. To hear one another. Communication is key to building trust.
So in my work I often code-switch. Same message but the delivery will always vary depending on the context. I want my message to come across. I want to be heard. I want to create space for dialogue. So I have to be able to communicate in a way that makes sense to the person I am speaking with. But let me be clear, code-switching does not compromise the message nor does it apologize for it. It is not about being phony, playing it safe or patronizing the listener. It is about being relevant, respectful and in right-relationship.
So, back to Jesus and the parables found in this week’s text. Was Jesus doing some code-switching? I am not sure since he clearly states that his intent is that some would not understand. But why not? If there is no understanding how can there be change? If some are on board but others are not, how can there be a common vision or a collective consciousness towards healing and restoration?
The Working Preacher commentary talks about transparency and being okay with mystery here.
As I thought about this blog post I was reminded of a course I took waaaaay back in my seminary days entitled, “The Parables as Subversive Speech” and went searching for the book we used of the same title (here).
As we watch debates, prepare sermons, plan our MLK commemorations and events and consider our role in these times, I leave you with these questions from the intro—
“…What if the parables of Jesus were neither theological nor moral stories but political and economic ones? What if the concern of the parables was not the reign of God but the reigning systems of oppression that dominated Palestine in the time of Jesus? What if the scenes they presented were not stories about how God works in the world but codifications about how exploitation worked in Palestine? What if Jesus’ parables were more like Paulo Freire’s “codifications” than like sermon illustrations? What if the parables are exposing exploitation rather than revealing justification? What would all this mean for a reading of the parables?”
Please share in the comments your thoughts and any questions would you add as together we ponder this text anew…and hopefully with only a bit of frustration (Ha!).
Rev. Dr. Marilyn Pagán-Banks (she/her/hers/ella) is a queer womanist freedom fighter gratefully (though not always gracefully) serving as executive director of A Just Harvest, Senior Pastor at San Lucas UCC, and adjunct professor at McCormick Theological Seminary. She is a joyful contributor in the upcoming book “Words of Her Mouth.”
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