When I was in grad school, I worked part time as a teaching assistant (TA). One semester, I was the TA for a class that was an introduction to Jesus and the New Testament. It was a pretty large class, and the professor had me do a lot of the grading. I remember one time I was sent home with a stack of 95 essay exams to grade. That was a long weekend.
I remember one of the questions on the exam:
Describe the setting of Jesus’ ministry.
As I read the exams, all the answers started to sound the same. In the blur of it all, I read one answer that I’ll never forget:
Jesus spent most of his time in rural areas preaching to pheasants.
I laughed out loud. Obviously the student meant to write that Jesus spent most of his time talking to peasants, but I’ll never forget the image of Jesus preaching to a bunch of birds. I wondered how they would have responded to the Sermon on the Mount.
Typos aside, the student was correct. Jesus spent much of his time in the country, engaging with people who were on the poor end of the social spectrum. He preached primarily in Galilee, which was a rural area. Jesus was from Nazareth, a town in Galilee, which a lot of people viewed as kind of a podunk town.
In the countryside of Galilee, Jesus often taught the people in parables. It was a vivid and accessible way to bring his message. His parables were little stories that had a meaning behind them. They got people to think, and they were full of images and scenes that were familiar to people who lived in the rural communities of Galilee.
Many of the people coming to hear Jesus probably came straight from their own farms, or walked through other farms to get to him.
The Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, the Parable of the Fig Tree, the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard – all of these stories evoke the sights, smells and sounds of living and working in an agricultural society.
When we look at the Apostle Paul, it’s a much different story. As Paul spread the Gospel and planted churches all around the Mediterranean world, his ministry was primarily an urban one. He spent much of his time in large, strategic population centers like Corinth and Ephesus. He was working in crowded marketplaces, and in the shadow of statues, temples, stadiums and theaters.
Paul’s letters are full of references to living and working in the crowded conditions of a modern city.
I guess that makes him a little bit rock n’ roll.