What we really have here is a parable about a persistent and vindictive widow who was willing to do whatever it took to get her way … and an unjust narcissistic judge who changed a legal ruling for fear of his own safety. The parables aren’t as straight forward and clean as we want them to be, and for good reason, to challenge us to greater faithfulness.
The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard isn’t about the laborers, and it’s not about the vineyard. Jesus says it’s about the landowner. To understand the Kingdom as Jesus describes it, we must re-hear the text as a provocative call to radical justice that cares more about the well-being of the community than about any one person’s claim to wealth.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed does say that great outcomes arrive from small beginnings, but such a reading is banal. It’s simple. It’s too easy. It’s not provocative enough. What was Jesus really saying? Take another read.
The parables weren’t offered to make us feel good about our discipleship. They are intentionally provoking, and challenge us to a greater faithfulness. The Pearl of Great Price should not be understood as a self-centered congratulatory allegory, but a hard challenge to deeper discipleship.
When you hear the story from the ears of the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking, you begin to realize the Samaritan wasn’t seen to be such a “Good” guy. In fact, Jesus using the Samaritan as the faithful one was offensive at best. This kind of radical love is missed when we assume the Samaritan was just a kind passer-by.
Editorial additions to the Biblical text, like section headers, often impact our ability to faithfully hear Jesus’ words. To understand the parables, like that of the lost sheep, coin, and son, we have to strip away 2000 years of explanatory interpretations to rehear Jesus’ words with the ears of the Pharisees.