Jesus, when preaching, often used parables. Too often, we who preach in his name 21 centuries later turn parables into little “moral fables” that teach some sort of truth or are meant to instruct people how to live. As I learned in some great classes back in my ancient seminary days that that is unfortunate. “The church” has attempted to neuter the corrupting, explosive power of the parables. They were used by Jesus, I was taught, to open up an experience of the radically new and different reality of existence in the realm or order of life when God is totally in charge. The parables are metaphors. They should leave us feeling a little off kilter and wondering about what we just heard.
Instead, people in the pews tend to tune parables out and miss the point, since they don’t always have the cultural context and knowledge of those folks Jesus first told the stories to. “O, I know this one about the ‘Good Samaritan’” they might say. “It’s about taking care of your neighbor. Let’s get on with Mass.” Or is it? Jesus would use everyday situations, events, experiences, stories and objects and trow in a “twist” that wasn’t what the hearers expected. The listener would be left with an experience of being challenged to re-think their preconceived notion of God’s action in human life. As I understand it, the “Good Samaritan” should really be titled “The Man in the Ditch” and it is a challenge to us righteous Christian do-gooders to remember that in God’s Kingdom God’s mercy is revealed in unexpected people and ways. Don’t box God in, so to speak, to your particular definition of faith and goodness. Open minds are a character trait of the citizens of the kingdom. (It’d take a lot more than a paragraph to make my point about the parable. The next time it’s coming up in the lectionary of the Roman Catholic Church, visit my parish to hear the homily.)
Why all this talk about parables and this blog’s title, “The Kingdom is Like…Paella?” Topic was suggested by an ordinary experience I had last evening that got me to thinking about in the midst of which was the kind of opportunity Jesus would have used to further his mission proclaiming the Kingdom of God present in the midst of people who are unaware of it’s presence.
I was invited to a farewell party for a local pastoral associate, Sister J, who is leaving the two parish communities near my parish where she has served for many years. The event brought together the pastoral councils of two parishes, all Anglos, and the Hispanic Ministry Council, all Mexicans, which guides outreach to the Spanish-speaking community that gather at one of the parish churches. Sister has been very active in attempting to make the unity of the disciples of Christ in their diversity of language and culture a reality in the parishes. Too often we break down into language groups even when worshiping in the same building. There is value in celebrating liturgy in the language we are comfortable using, yet at times, it is important to visually pray and socialize together to exhibit the unity of our faith even if we can’t totally comprehend the words the other is speaking. So, it was fitting and an attempt to build up the unity of the church that we gathered English and Spanish-speaking, people of German and Mexican heritage for an outdoor picnic to honor and thank the woman who held up this vision for her parishioners as she prepares to take up a new ministry in the church. This is the parish I have begun to celebrate the Eucharist in Spanish at on occasion.
What do you serve at such a gathering. I guess there could have been fried chicken, potato salad, beer and tamales, cactus (which I discovered is supposedly a tasty dish in the Mexican culture) and tequila. But then we’d all have gravitated to that food with which we were familiar. Not much of a sign of coming together over a common table. Then what could be our “eucharistic food,” the food that would symbolize the unity of the Body of Christ?
Why not something that was from another tradition, that both groups would enjoy, perhaps for the first time? How about paella? That was the idea of the lay minister, Bob “Roberto” R. who “pastors” the Hispanic community in our area. A great idea, I thought, as I observed the gathering.
The paella, a dish from Spain, was prepared over an open fire in a huge pan designed for making the dish, about three feet in diameter. The open fire and the novelty of the cooking method drew people around the preparations, asking questions. People were engaging each other in conversation about the unusually large pan, making connections on a very human level (food is essential and something all humans do). Bob, Sister J and others helped make the introductions happen to get people over their initial “shyness” about the folks they didn’t know. Forming community needs the push of a pastor (at its root a word that means shepherd), sometimes.
Then there is the dish itself. A huge pan, that needs two people to cooperate to move it and holds all kinds of foods. Shrimp/Camarón, pork/cerdo, chicken/pollo, garlic/ajo, olive oil/aceite de oliva, rice/arroz, peas/guisantes, chicken broth/caldo de pollo, red, green, yellow peppers/pimientas rojas, verdes, amarillas were all cooked in the one pan. Isn’t that the kingdom of God? “It is like a mustard seed that grows into a large bush in which all the birds of the air and various creatures find shelter” Jesus said. Perhaps he could have said of our gathering, “The Kingdom of God is like a Paella feast. All the ingredients in one pan, rich in diversity, like the folks gathered around the one dish, dinning in the Kingdom, feasting, rejoicing in their unity in the Body of Christ. The flavors melding into one while not loosing their distinctness. The people gathered as one, rich in diversity.” Or something like that. Jesus was better at putting together parables. But I hope you get the idea. Probably no one left the gathering “off-balance” from the metaphorical experience (unless too much beer/cerveza was consumed), but hopefully they had a little voice in their head saying, “Wasn’t that a great experience? Maybe that’s what heaven is like.”