Sunday, 19 October 2014

God's Judgement

The Parable of the Sower
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.  Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.  Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”  - Matt. 13:1-6

As a student of the Blessed Edith Stein Institute I clearly recall our Carmelite teachers emphasising the great importance of the Parables.  Parables represent a key part of the teachings of Jesus, forming approximately one third of his recorded teachings.  Christians place high emphasis on these parables; since they are the words of Jesus; they are believed to be what the Father has taught, indicated by John 8:28[1] and 14:10[2].   The key theme, motive and purpose behind these stories can be found in the following response from Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 13:10,
 The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" He replied,
"The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables:
Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand."

Richard Rohr writes ‘This is how I read this enigmatic passage: “You disciples have already made the breakthrough, so I can talk to you straightforwardly and you get it. But for those who are still enclosed and over-defended, I’ve got to tell little riddles and stories to undermine their usual and comfortable way of thinking, so that they’ll re-frame both the question and the answer.’
Referring to the same passage from Matthew; note that Jesus talks about the ‘kingdom’ as it having already been given to us, not as something that is to come in the future.  Nor is Jesus talking about a kingdom as something that appears only after our death.  Although In one sense, the kingdom of God has always existed.  However in the present sense I believe that the primary purpose of parables is to teach us how to become and live like kingdom people here on earth.  For example the secrets to this kingdom can be found wherever the values of this kingdom – as expressed in the parables -are accepted in the hearts of human kind.

While most Christians are probably quite familiar with the parables as ‘The Prodigal Son’ and ‘The Good Samaritan’, others such as ‘The Workers in the Vineyard’ are often dismissed as impractical and unfair. But if we were to look for the deeper treasure contained in each story we would find that they require we step outside our known and immediate world. Kingdom values represent the upside down values of the world.  They are contradictory, paradoxical, confusing, disorderly, and inconsistent.

Nowhere are the upside values of God’s Kingdom better expressed then when we speak about justice. In his blog,  ‘Disordered Parables [3], Br. Robert L’Esperance  recently eloquently wrote “It’s always important for us to remember that Jesus showed us that God’s justice and human notions of justice are two quite different things.  Not only different but sometimes at complete variance with one another.  The judgement that Jesus shows us points to a new way; judgement in the kingdom is measured, deliberate and never afraid to reverse itself.  The kind of judgement that we all long for in that moment of grace when we recognize our own need for mercy and forgiveness. Judgement grounded not in knowledge but in wisdom.”  I have come to understand it as ‘God’s restorative justice’ - Justice that is based on redemption not punishment. Think about that while contemplating the often mistaken idea of God’s last judgement.
Like the future, parables can seem frightening and even threatening.  Some parables are comforting, heart-warming, humorous, earthly, we might even say, picturesque, but always in some way or another, challenging.  I think that much of their power is in the fact that they are in so many ways like how we experience life itself.  But unless we are prepared to accept these Kingdom values in our daily lives we cannot enter that narrow gate or door to this Kingdom.  Not because God doesn`t constantly invite us but because we are more likely to depend on our own selfish ego`s.  Whenever we choose to refuse God`s gift of freedom and rely strictly on our ego`s to satisfy our own personal needs, well then you and I both know where that will get us.  And as a result we will experience much weeping and gnashing of teeth until we finally recognize how our sins for have caused so much pain for others and ourselves.   

When we struggle to understand Jesus’ parables we need to listen, look and try to perceive them with the God’s wisdom - not our own. And only then will we understand the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven, with a new heart and turn to receive his healing touch.  For, blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.  Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. (Matthew 13:11-15). Jesus explains The Parable of the Sower following verse 17 of Matthew in your own bible.  But for those like the rest of us who continue to struggle with other Parables, remember in God's Kingdom here on earth there cannot be any right or wrong answers only better ones.

Note: for an excellent study guide to The Parables of Jesus click here.

[1] 28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me.
[2] 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

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