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 ~   Living a Parable  ~

         You have had the experience of hearing someone tell a story that was very funny to him but not having the same impact on you. The person then ends with “You had to be there.” Quite true. There are many things one doesn’t appreciate unless one was there.

        You can use your imagination, however. Imagine being a Jew two thousand years ago standing in a hushed crowd and hearing this new, famous teacher declaring, “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20, NIV).

        Some people around you gasp. Others snicker. You can’t believe your ears. You look around expecting the Temple Police to arrest Jesus, then realize they wouldn’t make their move in front of such an admiring crowd. Jesus was extremely popular. You don’t yet know the Temple Police will indeed arrest Him in a couple of years, under the cover of night, led by one of His own disciples of His inner circle. You don’t know where this is all going, who this Jesus is, and how this revolutionary storm will end.

        You are also very confused, even offended, as a Jew so reverently faithful to the teachings of the Pharisees who are the keepers of the holy temple and God’s law, and to your “neighbors,” fellow Jews, descendants of father Abraham, suffering under the oppression of the Roman Empire’s occupation of your holy and ancestral land, a pagan people who worship many gods.

        The temple and Pharisees are all you have, the very center of your heritage, nationality and spiritual life. The Pharisees were rooted in the Hasidim from two centuries before this Jesus. They taught the Torah was divinely inspired, that within the sovereignty of Yahweh was the free will of His creation, that the soul is immortal and would continue living after physical death. Your teachers knew the structure of the angelic and demonic hierarchies, believed all people were equal but needed to continually strive for moral and ethical perfection, of which they themselves were living examples.

        Given that state of mind and belief, imagine the storm in your heart upon hearing Jesus assert, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you [Pharisees]” (Matthew 21:31b, NIV) and “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to…You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:13,15, NIV).

        Forgiving of sin, Jesus always confronted evil head on. He was never politically correct, but Jesus did practice zero tolerance of the unrepentant perpetrators of evil. But He also needed to educate people to recognize the righteous-looking masks of evil. Upon seeing the mask and what is hiding behind it, the world views of people are shattered. It is not enough nor compassionate to leave the people without helping them to then reconstruct their paradigms and ways of seeing. So Jesus redefined what a true teacher does: “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as the old” (Matthew 13:52, NIV).

        Jesus provided a lot of education on “what the kingdom of heaven is like,” using metaphors and stories. Two that mention the “treasures” above are recorded in Matthew’s account: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought this field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (13:44-46, NIV). Who is this man and what is this treasure?

        Exegesis is the scholarly method of extracting meaning from Scripture using many principles. The Pharisees and teachers of the law (scribes) were accomplished exegetes, as well as today’s biblical scholars. Interestingly, biblical scholarship does not lead to personal salvation and embracement of Christ. Some excellent biblical scholars are agnostics or atheists. Thus exegesis isn’t enough to understand what is beyond meaning. Beyond exegesis is the integration of meaning into one’s life and heart.

        The prophet Nathan was also a skilled psychologist. Rather than confronting King David directly with the need to recognize and confess his adulterous/murderous sins and risking David’s defensiveness, Nathan won him over first, with a parable. Having an excellent understanding of the parable’s meaning (exegesis), David was angry at the subject of the story whom David said deserved to die. Nathan then dropped the ax and told David, “You are that man.” David got it in an instant, infusing meaning into heart. (See 2 Samuel 12:1-4.)

        In Bible commentaries and sermons, the parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great value are taken to mean that when a person finds the kingdom treasure, he or she would give all for it. Given its implication of self-denial for God, it sounds right but is really self-centered and anti-Gospel. The man finds this heavenly treasure and buys it, “sacrificing” all. But where is Jesus the Christ in that “meaning”? The kingdom cannot be bought, and no one is able to access the kingdom “by force” or his own effort. The treasure of the kingdom is freely accessed through Christ, who said “the Father is so pleased to give it.” Besides, the treasure the man of the parable is buying is not the kingdom. Good exegesis will show that the word “treasure” is the same one used in Exodus 19:5 and Deuteronomy 7:6 and 26:18 and other references to indicate a people, God’s “treasured possession.”

        This parable “took on flesh” in July, 2002, as the world watched the drama of the laborious rescue of 9 Pennsylvania (US) miners trapped in a shaft. They were the living dead, much like all humans outside of spiritual regeneration. While they hung on in hope, they also prepared for death, assessing their lives and writing notes to loved ones to be found with their bodies.

        Nations regard oil fields and coal deposits as treasures, so much so they will wage war and sacrifice human life over their control. But, as between God and us, the situation turned quite personal in Pennsylvania. The treasure became the humans trapped below. Consequently, the rescuers gave all to retrieve them from their grave. No cost was calculated or considered, be it labor, equipment or money. As in the parables, there was great joy when the hidden treasure of human lives were reborn into the fresh wind and starry night.

        The man in Jesus’ parable and the rescuers of the miners are metaphors for Jesus Christ, whose treasure is us. That’s “what the kingdom of heaven is like.” Christ was the One who sold all He had, emptying Himself completely of flesh, blood and Spirit. St. Paul affirms this by writing “we were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23). Jesus was talking about us in His stories in relationship to Himself. Even the Pharisees knew that (Matthew 21:45).

        We can learn even more by a twist of an imaginative “what if?” with the living story of the miners. Inconceivable as it is, just suppose the rescued miners were ungrateful and angry. “Why did you bother? I can’t understand your motives. I could have made it out by myself. I’m self-sufficient and in control. I didn’t need you. I’m going to jump back in that shaft right now and prove myself to the world.” This is crazy talk and unimaginable. However, Christ hears that constantly from so many of His treasured people. And we don’t appreciate how crazy that sounds.

        Then think how the rescuers would feel. They would be dumbfounded, hurt, in agony. We know Jesus feels this way. He did cry over His people: “How much I wanted to gather you to me as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you wouldn’t come.”

        No doubt a movie will be made about the miners’ rescue. It will be saturated with reflections on life, endurance, will, sacrifice, “not counting the cost,” love and heroism. Those who will see it, those who experienced it and those of us who pondered it will be gifted with inspiration. But those who watch and feel with the heart and mind of Christ will, to their joy and understanding beyond exegesis, see the face of Christ in the rescuers and our reflections in the miners.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services

Weekly Reflections © October 5, 2002

Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com

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