Monday, 28 July 2014

Have you understood all this?

I don't really think that this Sunday's Gospel reading (Mt 13) is a verbatim report of an actual conversation between Our Lord and His disciples, but I still love their reply. Jesus tells them what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, namely: a mustard seed, yeast, treasure hidden in a field and a merchant seeking fine pearls. ‘Have you understood all this?’ he asks, and the disciples answer, as though it were the easiest thing in the world: ‘Yes.’ So the story goes. 

But we know, in hindsight, that the disciples really did not understand what the Kingdom was all about. The Gospels are, among other things, a record of the failure of the disciples to understand what Jesus what saying. So it was that they abandoned Him when it came to the crucial moment. 

The Collect for this Sunday, it seems to me, considers well this biblically warranted limitation of our abilities: "Merciful God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as pass our understanding." The Kingdom of God is not something instantly comprehensible. In fact, the instantly accessible is seldom worth bothering with. If it were, Jesus would not have spoken in metaphors and parables. He would have just told us straight. 

But He didn't, and isn't it interesting how much more willing His followers are to express the faith in black and white terms than He was Himself? We should be wary of falling into that trap. We should not presume to imagine that we know more about God than Jesus Himself let us know, in all his oblique testimonies. Surely we should not dare state the faith in simpler terms than He did Himself. 

This Sunday, let us listen to what Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is, both in His words and in the spaces He leaves between them. Let us not presume. He gives us glimpses of that which lies beneath our tawdry conceptions of reality and which guides us to the vision of something far better than in this life we can possibly know. Our job, I would say, is to heed and hold to that vision. 

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