Faith seeking understanding, my personal journey towards a deeper knowledge of and intimacy with God, the cosmos, humanity and myself through thoughts, words and (occasionally) images, is a series of [hopefully] daily reflections I’m writing with the purpose of publishing something on a regular basis for others to read, either here, at joncarllewis.com or among my writings at Medium.com.
Parables are on my mind tonight. The gospel from today’s daily office contained Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God. He seems to be searching for a metaphor, the right words to convey the character of this phenomenon which is coming into the world.
“Why doesn’t he come out and say what he wants? Why not speak plainly and boldly his truth?” I find myself asking. It would certainly make life easier for us, especially those red-letter folks who hang on Jesus’ every recorded word. Or, if not easier, it might make life a little bit clearer.
Of course, Jesus can be pretty unambiguous at times. We know exactly how he felt about the poor, the outcast, and the stranger. We know he was pretty welcoming of tax collectors and lepers and women and children. We know he was pretty disappointed with the religious leaders of his day and the way religion was being run.
But when he wanted to talk about the kingdom, we find him searching for a parable.
One of the most telling parables for me is the parable of the mustard seed. Although tiny, when planted, over time it grows to be one of the biggest shrubs around. It starts small, small even for a seed. It falls into the ground and appears to be dead. Nevertheless, over time it comes back to life and grows and grows until it is so big that none can overlook it.
I think, perhaps, Jesus was telling us something about the power of words, also. Jesus seems to know full well that if he came out and said exactly what was on his mind about a new kingdom in the midst of the brutal and violent Roman occupation of Palestine… well, he knew what would happen to him well before the people he tried to convey truth to would find out. So, he tried to give them stories that would help them figure things out for themselves.
Sure, there are times when he explains his parables, but it seems he does this with only a handful of his followers—and they often don’t seem to get it. When they do understand, like Peter’s confession, Jesus tells them to be quiet about what they have realized.
I believe that Jesus understood his message to be subversive. Dangerous. Incendiary. And so, he had to be careful how much he let out at a time. Too much and he would find himself and his ministry cut short. But saying nothing wasn’t an option either. So, he told stories. He spoke in parables. Sometimes he explained himself, but not very openly.
Yet, like that mustard seed, he trusted that the kingdom would take root, unnoticed and unheralded, and would grow over time to dominate the landscape, providing shelter for the birds—but all in good time.
All in good time.
Is this why we write in parables?
Do we have access to a truth it would be dangerous to come right out and say?
Would that truth endanger our lives as speaking the truth endangers the lives of countless heralds around the globe?
Or is our truth tame enough we could blurt it out to just anybody and suffer no ill effects?
Which do I want my words to be?
Thank you for your time and attention.
I’d love to know your thoughts on what you’ve read.
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May God richly bless you on your journey.