Sometimes reading Scripture and connecting with it is difficult. It seems distant, unrelated to everyday life. Sometimes it’s like reading a history text book and trying to figure out exactly what that has to do with today. Sure there are lessons to be learned, but there is a disconnect, at least at times in my mind, between the world of first century Israel and the one I live in. The one in which I sit and type this on my computer and publish it where anyone in the world can read it.
Perhaps that is sometimes why it is easier for those in third-world cultures to connect with the stories Jesus shares. They live in a world much more similar to His. They see the parables of the good soil and lost sheep play out in day-to-day life just as those hearing Jesus’ words for the first time did. And Jesus had a knack for using the real world, the nitty gritty, day-in day-out, routine things of life to make points. And he used those things specifically, not generically.
In Matthew 18 we find Jesus and the disciple in Capernaum and one of the disciples favorite topics has come up again. They approach Jesus and ask “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” I picture Jesus shaking his head as once again he realizes they still aren’t getting it. He calls out to a little child and had him come over to the disciples. Jesus tells them that unless they become like little children, they won’t enter into the kingdom of heaven. That those who humble themselves like little children are the greatest in the kingdom.
He goes on to say that whoever welcomes a little child welcomes him. And, “if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea”.
It’s not that when we read or hear this we don’t understand what Jesus is saying. We get the picture. It’s just that maybe the picture doesn’t connect with our daily lives. But what if I told you Capernaum was a village on the edge of the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. And that as Jesus was teaching, his audience could look out and see the sea. That adds a dimension to his story that we might miss. And what if I told you that Capernaum was a village that was known for it basalt, and that it was famous for making millstones. Does it change the story, no. But it does add another dimension. Perhaps Jesus is standing beside a huge millstone like the one below, looking out over the sea as he tells them “it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea”
Often times we get caught up in the ideas, theories and philosophies of our faith. And when we do, we forget that Jesus cares about the nitty-gritty, day-to-day. That he isn’t someone out of touch of the reality of life, but he engaged in the physical world of his day and understands the world of today as well. Maybe Jesus would have a different set of teaching for us about computer crashes, and car-pool lines to go along with some older ones about sowing seeds and paying taxes. Maybe that would help me with the distance I sometimes feel as I read the text.
Do you ever feel the disconnect with the cultural examples Jesus uses? What parables might he tell us today?