One of the great injustices a reader can do to the parables of Jesus is not to be offended by them, or not at least think them most peculiar. We know them so well, we have explained and moralized them so often, that in many cases we have lost touch with how peculiar the parables are.
My old friend Thomas Purifoy, head of Compass Cinema, is doing his part to bring back the peculiarity, and in some cases the offensiveness, of the parables of Jesus. Modern Parables (Series 1) is six short films, each of which retells a parable of Jesus in a modern setting and in so doing awakens us to realities we may have missed.
In Samaritan, an old man who has been robbed and beaten is ignored by a deacon and then by a pastor, and for the same reasons that you or I might look past a grizzled, glassy-eyed old man lying in a pile of trash on a city street. The person who finally comes to the old man’s aid is a Middle Eastern taxi driver who reads Arabic-language newspapers and smokes cigarettes. I know the parable well enough to side automatically with the Samaritan and view the scribes and priests as villains to be booed and hissed. The film reminds me that I have more in common with the story’s villains than with its hero.
Hidden Treasure plays that parable of the merchant and the pearl of great price as a quirky comedy. A two-bit real estate agent trying unsuccessfully to sell a few acres of urban blight discovers oil on the property, Beverly Hillbilly style, and sells everything to buy the property. You know the story, but to see the “merchant” holding a yard sale and fielding the questions of concerned friends puts things in a new perspective.
Prodigal Sons depicts a young man blowing his half of the family fortune in riotous living in New York City. In the final scene, it is easy to see why the bitter older brother is so bitter. And in his bitterness it is obvious this parable is about two rebellious sons, not one.
Through the month of June, Compass Cinema is making the six films of the first Modern Parables series available on the Modern Parables Facebook page. Samaritan and Hidden Treasure are already available. The other four (Prodigal Sons, plus films based on the parables of the importunate widow and the sower) will be trickling onto the Facebook page as the month progresses.
These films were made on a tight budget, but they rarely look low-budget. Thomas is a gifted storyteller (he wrote, directed, and produced all of the films), and his commitment to excellence shines through.
Compass Cinema is making these movies available this month because they are in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a a second series of Modern Parables, beginning with the parable of the workers. If you like what you see and are in a position to help, here’s the link to the project’s Kickstarter page. I will tell you that Compass Cinema gets a lot of goodness out of relatively small amounts of money. They are good stewards that way.