Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Let anyone with ears to hear listen!

He said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’ And he said to them, ‘Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.’

He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’

He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

- Mark 4:21-34

I find it really interesting to observe Jesus' teaching style. The parables are not exactly allegorical. By that I mean they're not exact comparisons that match up in every instance or angle of interpretation. Rather, he is illustrative. He gives us a vivid picture of something. Here we have three different illustrations, or pictures, of how the kingdom works. Each illustration has its own point, its own image to make. He gives us an idea of different ways in which the kingdom works by giving us a picture, so to speak. But none of these pictures work in precisely the same way; it's not an exact allegory. In an important sense, the gospels work the same way. We read and hear the same stories, but they are not all identical. Rather we're given pictures, from witnesses, often of the same event with just a slightly different perception or perspective, depending on the author. From all of these angles - whether we speak of Jesus' parables or the separate gospels - we draw a picture, get a full idea, of our subject. And that in turn acts as a seed for further revelation and knowledge later. After all, the gospels end with John's words: And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. There is always more to be learned, to be revealed, about this kingdom.

Our first illustration about the kingdom, above, is the lampstand and the lamp. Everything will be revealed, light is to shine for a reason and purpose. These truths will not remain hidden. If you have the ears to hear, you can understand. And yet more is there to be revealed. Again, just like the gospels themselves. The measure you give will be the measure you get: draw yourself into this mystery with open heart and more will be revealed.

Jesus goes on to elaborate on the growth of this knowledge of his revealed mysteries, this understanding of faith and the kingdom, by giving us a picture of someone going to sleep after he's planted seed. We don't watch and know every moment of growth in the ground, but we are witnesses to that growth. We see creation as a work of God; we see how it works but we're not its author. So it is with this kingdom and its mysteries: the seed is planted in us, we do the watering, but by God's power it grows. We don't and can't force this or make it happen. But it happens by its own nature.

The tiny mustard seed that grows into a great and sturdy shrub is an illustration of how this kingdom grows, how the word multiplies within us - most especially of the growth of spiritual reality for us. Take a seed and plant it, and through God's power it grows. Through its own nature it grows and spreads - we don't control that, we don't make it happen. Humble beginnings may bring forth a great and strong bounty.

These illustrations taken together give us a sort of full picture of what it is to be a part of this kingdom, and of how it works, how it grows, what is its nature. It can work through the humblest of beginnings - whether we are speaking of Christ's own beginning of his church or the seed within ourselves, our hearts. One thing is certain, it is destined to grow if we nurture it, keep our hearts open to it, "water" it through prayer and discernment - and just the desire within us for more and our willingness to hear. From Jesus' parables we gain an understanding of completeness, and yet, taken together, it is not an end. There is always more: more to be revealed if we but have the patience and the care. All will be revealed - but there is always more in this journey, always something new waiting to be found, waiting to grow and sprout its branches. Where will it lead you?

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