Life as a Parable
A while ago, a relative of ours and a fellow who is a Christian posted a newspaper clipping on my Facebook. This article talked about the increase in the number of food stamp recipients in the U.S. during the last year. He followed this with a quote from the National Park Service regulations regarding the prohibition of feeding wild park animals. The explanation for the feeding prohibition was that the “animals would become dependent on handouts.” He wondered if there was an inconsistency in this in terms of the government’s intentions. To me, this comparison of impoverished folk as dependent animals was pretty distressing.
My first reaction was to point out that we are not animals, we are in fact, “made in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis1:26), but instead of responding immediately, I pondered upon the spiritual meaning of this event. I got part of the answer the next Sunday in church. The sermon text was Matthew 13:3-17. Although our pastor mainly discussed the seed-sowing portion of this text, I was fascinated with the rest of the passage.
Much of this passage has to do with Jesus’ response to the disciples questioning Him about why he spoke to the crowds in parables. Like most of the Lord’s responses to questions, His answer is not straight forward. In some ways Jesus’ answers to questioning is sometimes almost annoying. He seldom gives us a direct answer, but forces the questioner – and us – to struggle with His response. Interestingly, of the 183 questions asked of Jesus, he only responds directly to three of them. In this case, He essentially tells the disciples that because the crowds “haven’t received the secrets of the kingdom of heaven,” they don’t understand the parables. However, the disciples have received the secrets and they do understand. The disciples seem to accept and understand His response to their question.
So what are these “secrets of the kingdom of heaven” that the crowds didn’t have? Obviously, as Peter is soon to testify (see Matthew 16:16-17), the disciples’ have knowledge that Jesus is God and Savior, and thus they are under the influence of God’s Spirit. In addition Jesus was teaching the primacy of love in God’s relation to humanity and to each other. This was coupled with the Masters examples and teaching about humility. In short, because of their association with Jesus, the disciples took on a radically different way of thinking about reality – a totally new worldview - than did the people who comprised “the crowds.” Because of this, the disciples understood the parables of Jesus, whereas to the crowds His parables were downright baffling.
We contemporary followers of Christ are also known as His disciples. However, many of us, while giving lip-service to being Christian, haven’t developed the original disciples’ Christ-centered worldview. As a consequence, the world we live in is baffling to us. In many ways, modern life is a kind of parable which can’t easily be understood by “the crowds.” As a consequence, there is a tendency to fall back into materialistic, rational cultural explanations in regards to the social world around us. All too often a real spiritual analysis is missing from our understanding. We have a propensity to fall back into common sense, non-Christ-centered explanations of the social world around us.
How do we avoid this and become the disciples that stand-out from “the crowds?” To begin with, we need to develop a good, working knowledge of God’s Word. Only when we become familiar with the Holy Scripture can we get to the point of being able to, as the Protestant Reformer John Calvin said, see the world through “scriptural spectacles” (Biblical eyeglasses). That is, we are able to filter our thoughts and perceptions through our knowledge of the Bible. This is in line with Saint Paul’s admonition; “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Secondly, we need to realize the awesome fact that having accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, believers are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity, and as a person, He has feelings. We must be aware that we can stifle the work of the Spirit in our lives (I Thessalonians 5:19) or grieve Him with our sin and rebellion (Ephesians 4:30). If we confess and repent of our sins we restore our distorted access path to the Father and are able to act in the freedom of the Holy Spirit. He, in turn, will give us knowledge and understanding of our environment and situation.
A Christ-centered, spirit-driven worldview presents us with a radically different way of looking at our world than the one provided by our contemporary culture. Possessing this outlook, we are able to apply agape love and empathy to those folks that we encounter, while at the same time overcoming feelings of superiority for those who are less fortunate then we are. We are able to truly see and become concerned with our neighbors, in the Biblical sense (see Luke 10:25-37) and we realize that we are indeed, our “brother’s keeper” (see Genesis 4:9-11). God longs for us to operate in His Spirit. What a different world this would be if only we would do so,