Why did Jesus teach in parables? He told us why: "So that those outside may see but not perceive and hear but not understand." Parables tell secrets in a way that keeps them secret. They are simple stories that point to the life and peace and joy of another kingdom, all the while keeping that kingdom hidden from public view. So, then, we cannot listen to the parables in the same way we listen to other earthly stories. We cannot look at them from a distance, nor assess their validity from outside their grip. Jesus said, "Take care how you hear." By this, he did not mean that his teaching was only for those clever enough to solve a riddle. On the contrary, cleverness is our greatest obstacle. To hear the secrets of the parables, we need only enter the secret ourselves. After all, a lamp is placed on it stand only for those who would come inside to see.

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In this letter to the churches in Corinth, the Apostle Paul seeks to re-establish his apostolic credentials with a people who are losing confidence in him. The Corinthians have begun judging Paul according to cultural standards of shame and respectability, and therefore view his great suffering and weakness as discrediting attributes. They have given ear to a new brand of minister, one that measures up to the cultural standards of leadership -- impressive in speech, absent apparent weakness, an oasis from any consideration of suffering or death. Paul reasserts the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God, citing his suffering and weakness as evidence of true apostolic authority. And he calls on the Corinthians to embrace that authority in every way -- to acknowledge human frailty, to receive suffering as it comes, and to support those who minister in this countercultural power of God.