Luke 18:9-14 – Contemporizing a Parable

Timothy Reynolds commented on my post regarding the preaching of parables. I’d like to elevate that comment to a post, along with my response, so that perhaps others might want to have a go at a modern retelling of Luke 18:9-14. If there is some activity on this, I might also post what I actually preached. I used a contemporary version of the parable as my introduction to the message. My introduction is by no means a great example, but it is an example. Anyway, Timothy wrote:

Interesting idea to retell the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in a modern context – I’d be interested to know how you did this in a way that would gain the same reaction or anticipation as Jesus’ audience had. I can’t see how it would work, because congregations don’t have the same sort of expectations of religious leaders as those in Jesus’ day did. Let’s try:

An elder arrived early for the service and sat down on the other side of the chapel from the young lad he’d never seen before. He looked like one of that gang that hung around outside the swimming pool being a nuisance on their skate boards. The elder bowed his head to pray as he always did and said, “Thank you, Lord, that by your grace I have been kept from that sort of life and was a member of the church and had a good job by the time I was this guy’s age.”

The young lad didn’t even bow his head or close his eyes, but just said , “God, I don’t even know why I’m here, but I know I need you. Please forgive me for ignoring you.”

Are we getting any where near with that? I’m not sure – I think most congregations would see it coming!

My response:

Thanks Timothy – perhaps you have started something here. Your story certainly parallels the original in many respects. Like you wrote, I also think most congregations would see it coming! Of course, it’s hard to really surprise people when the reference for the message is in the notice sheet. Having said that, I think it is possible to think through a modern version of a parable, deliberately paralleling key points, but also deliberately obscuring some parallels, so that the tension is not given away too early. The goal is not to totally surprise people, but to have our story “do” what the original story “did.” So, perhaps others will follow your lead and give modern versions of this parable.

Peter has responded to a question on this post – see comments

5 thoughts on “Luke 18:9-14 – Contemporizing a Parable

  1. Is it ok to use a contemporary parallel to preach a text from an epistle, rather than going through the text bit by bit? Or is this an abuse of the text? What do you reckon?

  2. Personally I would be uncomfortable with preaching purely from a contemporary equivalent. The text is inspired, which includes the plot, but is not only the plot. So I would use a contemporary parallel in an introduction, or during the message in order to “do what the text does.” However, another element in preaching is to demonstrate the authority of the idea and message. So even if I used a contemporary version of the story to achieve the goal of the text, I would still show and explain the biblical text in order to demonstrate the authority of the message. The ratio of time spent in the contemporary and in the original would depend on the audience. I know some people are willing to only preach “their” version. I would not be comfortable with that since I want people in the Word, not just responding to my preaching.

  3. I have done this with other parables and preached this parable from Luke 18:9-14 just a few weeks ago! Modernizing these parables has the benefit of bringing the point of the story right to the congregation’s doorstep but this can also result in making people angry just as the original parables did. The most effective one was from the story of the Good Samaritan substituting the predominant races in our region for the Jews and the Samaritans. While everyone got the point of the parable (it’s not about race relations), it angered some who insisted that this wasn’t the same but it also made it vivid for others who said that they never really understood the significance until it was explained (or perhaps illustrated is a better term) in terms they were familiar with.

  4. I couldn’t find the Haddon Robinson’s monologue on this parable from the link that Dwi Cheung gave. But i did find it here: Hope this helps. I have been trying to think of a modern day parallel and have talked to a few people to get their ideas.

    I don’t think paralleling the whole parallel is what is needed but just the incredible flip of expectations from a good guy not being right with God and a bad guy being declaired in the right with God.

    Some ideas that i and some others had were:
    A frenchman who is a trator to his countrymen in the time of the German’s invading France. He assists the Germans to infiltrate French society to stamp out resistance and keep the locals in control. In contrast to him there is a man who is a freedom fighter with the french resistance who if fighting for the good of the country. I think this captures the contrasting characters but i am not sure what situation to put them in to illicit the same responce of shock that Jesus contemporaries had. Maybe I could put them in church after the war. I am not sure.

    A friend suggested the contrast between the brave men who fought the Victorian Bush fires and the man who has recently been caught who lit them.

    I am not sure but I have been racking my brain for a good story without much success. I would love to hear your ideas. It will be too late to help me but maybe could help someone else.

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