Thursday 23 November 2023

More ways to get to the same place

“Why do you tell stories, Jesus?”

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has told a few stories (he’ll tell many more), when one of the disciples asks why he does that. Conveniently, this happens right after he tells the parable of the sower and the seed, and before he explains it. 

I’m trying to keep an open mind, but I’m not really convinced that the answer Jesus gives is all Jesus. I wonder if it isn’t the author of Matthew interpreting for Jesus, interpreting both the parable and the conversation.

I think Jesus uses the stories (parables) as a teaching tool to illuminate the point he’s trying to make or to illustrate what the kingdom of God is like. I think he wants them to be understandable on a surface level to do that, but he also wants to prompt the listener to look deeper, to think more about this kingdom of heaven that Jesus wants to bring here. That, Jesus hopes, will help us better understand how we can make it happen. So it’s not just a vision of something other worldly or unattainable, a nice idea we can hold out at arms length and admire, but something we can work towards, that is truly “near,” even within our grasp. Maybe it won’t quite be heaven, but it can certainly make the world a better place.

In Matthew, Jesus answers that the disciples already have a better understanding than the average person. They’ve been with Jesus, seen and heard what he’s doing, even lived it. Their hearts and minds are more open. But many aren’t. Some just aren’t ready for it, some hear it but don’t follow through, some hear it but are already too entangled in the world around them. They’re going to need leaders, like the disciples, to help them understand.

You can see where this is going. It’s going right into the interpretation of the parable Jesus then gives. 

In the story, a farmer plants some seed. The seed, Jesus says, is the word of God. Some ends up on the path, where birds eat it up. That’s those who aren’t ready for the word. Some ends up on the rocks. That’s those who hear it but give up. Some lands among weeds and that’s those who are trapped in the world. Some lands on good soil and flourishes and that’s the disciples.

Sure. That’s a great way to understand it. One of the ways, anyway, based on where the seed lands. And you might then want to find your way to being good soil and helping others to be good soil, too. I think Jesus would say you could do that with love.

But, what if you were the seed and instead, where you land is the various places we find ourselves in life? You might then wonder how to get through those barren or overwhelming times and get to greener pastures. I think Jesus would say you could do that with love.

Or, you might be the farmer. That raises a big red flag, because no farmer would throw around seed like that. They’d be more careful, finding the best place to grow and caring for the soil. But what if the farmer is God and the seed is love? What if this is how love should be shared, unconditionally and without expectation or limitation? This is how Jesus shows us to love, so I think Jesus would say you could do that with love, too.

This is why Jesus tells stories. So that we’ll wonder and feel and think and find our way to love.