By Alyce McKenzie, Special Contributor…
One Sunday recently I was invited to be the retreat leader for a Sunday School class from a large church in Dallas. One of the members has a lovely vacation home in the wilds of east Texas near Chandler. I was to arrive by 9 a.m., have breakfast with the group, and lead a daylong session on the parables of Jesus.
The class leader offered the opportunity to ride with one of the class members since it was a little tricky to find, but I like to drive myself places. So she sent me the directions for the two-hour trip which involved, in the last few miles, finding an asphalt road on the right, a caretaker’s house immediately on my left, a shed on the right and then a two-mile dirt road to the house. Just to be safe, I also plugged the address into both Mapquest and Google, printed out directions and then programmed my navigation system in my car with the address.
Surely three sources of directions would get me through the 110-mile trip. Still, I left 20 minutes earlier than needed, just in case.
It wasn’t a particularly pretty day. In fact, it was rather overcast. Being a Bible nerd, I passed the time listening to the Modern Scholar “History of Ancient Israel” CD series a friend, who is also a Bible nerd, had lent me.
I learned about how the Assyrians enjoyed deporting people and settling them in a strange land so they were disoriented and didn’t have the energy to rebel. I lost all respect for Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar for killing poor King Zedekiah’s sons in front of him, then putting out his eyes, putting him in chains and making him march to Babylon.
By comparison I should have had no complaints about my little trip. Except that as I got to the end of the 110 miles, there were an awful lot of farm roads with very similar numbers. The scenery was pretty, but after a while, I didn’t care about that. All I cared about was that a houseful of people was waiting for me.
The worst moment came when, as I was driving down Farm Road 4109, my navigation lady in my car said: “You have arrived at your destination. Your route guidance is finished.” The only problem is, I was driving down a country road with nothing on either side.
Unfortunately, there have been times in life when I have felt that way. I know God has a purpose for me, but I’m not quite sure how to get there. I think a lot of people have those times. You don’t particularly feel God present and guiding you. You feel left on your own and not quite sure how to get where you’re supposed to be getting.
Fortunately, hearing “Your route guidance is finished,” had a motivating effect on me.
“I don’t need you!” I told her. “I can find this #$*% house on my own.” Feeling a surge of irritation and determination, I put the car in reverse, drove back down Farm Road 4109 to the main road (I use the word “main” loosely) and, peering at the written directions the class leader had given me, turned right, then left, then right and, praise God, there was the asphalt road on the right, the caretaker’s house on the left, the shed on the right, and the dirt road leading into the trees.
After bumping along that road for two miles, there was a lovely house on a small lake. I was not even late.
I dragged my rolling briefcase up the steps and rang the bell to be greeted by a jovial group of people waiting to hear me talk about the parables of Jesus.
Maybe I could invent a modern parable. But what would I call it? “The parable of the lost leader”? And what would the lesson be? That, when it comes to God, our route guidance is never finished? That God sometimes directs us through our own ingenuity? That you should leave early if you expect to get lost? That next time, I should put aside my pride, and accept a ride?
Parables are so effective and so annoying because they offer us the challenge we most need to hear.
Then they leave it up to us to accept and act on it.
Dr. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology. This essay is reprinted by permission from her blog “Knack for Noticing,” at www.patheos.com/blogs/knackfornoticing/.