I tried out Yin Yoga this afternoon.
Now many of you have heard me speak of my experience of yoga before. I am, perhaps, the most physically inflexible person you know. Yoga is always hard. It always hurts. Still, I keep returning to it because the stretching, the posing, the breathing, opens something up in me and I wind up leaving more calm and centered than before.
So I tried Yin Yoga this afternoon. It’s a lot like other yoga only you hold the poses longer. (In our case today, for beginners, we only held them for three minutes. I cannot imagine what it would be to hold them for up to twenty minutes or more as the more experienced do.) At least part of the point, of course, while one is holding the pose, is to pay attention to where it stretches. To where it hurts. And, as always, to breathe into or through the stretch or the pain.
And so I cannot help but wonder now if we might also think about living with the parables of Jesus in much the same way.
Indeed, Amy Jill Levine reminds us her chapter, “The Power of Disturbing Stories” in Short Stories by Jesus that the stories Jesus tells are meant to ‘provoke, challenge, and inspire.’ Moreover, she goes on to say,
Jesus knew that the best teaching concerning how to live, and live abundantly, comes not from spoon-fed data or an answer sheet. Instead, it comes from narratives that remind us of what we already know, but are resistant to recall. It comes from stories that prompt us to draw our own conclusions and as the same time force us to realize that our answers may well be contingent, or leaps of faith, or traps. It comes from stories that community members can share with each other, with each of us assessing the conclusions others draw, and so reassessing our own.
The parables, if we take them seriously not as answers but as invitations, can continue to inform our lives, even as our lives continue to open up the parables to new readings. (p. 275)
It is so, of course, that many of the parables can be summarized in a simple platitude — although they may be over simplified even then, to be sure. The parable before us now is not one of them. This is why I find myself thinking of my recent experience with Yin Yoga and wondering if the odd story Jesus tells us now is not one we should ever try to repeat in a sentence or two, but is meant to be held close to us and inform us and our living and our receiving the gifts of God in a way a more simple teaching could not. For this is what a parable does by its very definition. It is meant to be laid alongside our lives, our experiences, our old ways of thinking and to offer wisdom or inspire insight which otherwise might be entirely inaccessible.
Now surely, one of the hardest aspects of this particular teaching of Jesus is that he appears to be holding up dishonest manipulation and self serving behavior as something to be emulated. Like you, I cannot any other example like it in all of Jesus’ teaching. Indeed, if you are trying to figure out how to preach this parable this week, I imagine you have already combed every commentary on your shelf and every on-line reflection to see if you can find anyone, anywhere, who knows what to make of this story. Indeed, I can’t help but wonder if even the one who first put ink to scroll recording this parable was grasping at straws as he followed the story with these platitudes about faithfulness in a little and a lot, two masters, and God and wealth, for these don’t even seem to apply.
And so as I have forced myself to lay this parable alongside my life in these last days— holding the pose, if you will — I have found myself extremely uncomfortable. This is so, I expect, in part because the main character is entirely unsavory. First he is wasteful. Then he is conniving. And through it all he is entirely self serving. His behavior here runs contrary everything I have been taught to be and do. And yet, if I am honest, I expect my discomfort runs deeper than that. For you see, when I “hold the pose” for a while, I realize that I, too, can be much like the steward before us now.
- For yes, I have been known to be wasteful. And yes, while sometimes that wastefulness is known only to the eyes and heart of God, it is no less so for others not recognizing it
- Yes, I can be conniving and self serving. I have been known to plot and plan in order to ensure my own future.
- And yes, even the good I seek to do (as perhaps the manager sought to do in lowering the obligations of his master’s debtors) can be tainted by my own mixed motives.
- And yes, oh yes, these are so far more often than I would want anyone else to know.
Oh yes, as I have pressed this parable against my own experience this week I cannot help but wonder if the rich man in the story might actually be God and if I am, in fact, the dishonest manager. Indeed, this understanding being so, I cannot help but think of the times when my motives have been mixed, at best, and when somehow by the gift and grace of God my behavior still winds up reflecting well on God. For this is so. In the time of Jesus a wasteful manager would have reflected poorly on the honor of his employer. At least, in the end, the manager’s mercy with his master’s debtors would have raised his master’s esteem in the eyes of those who were indebted to him. And whatever else is so? Isn’t the rich man, in fact, merciful in the end? Doesn’t the rich man take even the mixed gifts his manager has to offer and forgive, or understand, or perhaps even make good out of them?
I know this analogy isn’t perfect, but it’s the best I have today. Indeed, perhaps if nothing else, as I “hold the pose” with this parable, I am driven to a posture of repentance and gratitude to God who always manages to ‘make good’ out of my paltry gifts. And who always gives another chance. Like the rich man does today.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that if in the spirit of “Yin Yoga I continue to ‘hold the pose’ — pressing this odd story against myself and taking note of where it stretches me or where it ‘hurts,’ that I will come to an entirely different conclusion in the end. I wonder where you will end up if you do the same. What do you think?
- I have not spoken with anyone yet who really likes the characters in this parable. What is your initial take on this odd story Jesus tells today?
- Does it make sense to think of the ‘rich man’ as God and you and me as the dishonest manager? Why or why not?
- The practice of “Yin Yoga” — holding a pose for a particular period of time — might be one way of thinking about how we are to interact with the parables of Jesus. What do you think? Or would you offer another?