In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus is presented as often talking in parables. These are enigmatic stories and sayings, usually about what he called the Kingdom of God / Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is often presented as an apocalyptic prophet who went around warning people that God’s Kingdom was coming soon. But the phrases we translate in our Bibles as ‘at hand’ or ‘near’ are in the perfect tense and thus mean something already here and continuing in its presence. Therefore the Kingdom that Jesus spoke of cannot have been a (solely) future event, but something that was near in proximity rather than in time (see Luke 17:21 for the most explicit statement of this).
Parables are not the same as allegories, although they often make parallels with things in people’s familiar experience. While they put things in simplistic terms, that doesn’t mean they are simple. On the contrary it makes them even more problematic. The biblical scholar Edward F. Beutner has suggested that “the function of a parables is not to instruct but to haunt.”
Parables are something that it is difficult to read a clear meaning from or to dissect the mechanics of what is being said. Rather, they are simply present to us, as a given. We might say that they are gifts because they have to be opened up, and are precious. We also find reflection in them by revisiting them in our liturgical practise, because while they do not change we as the listeners do.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”
Who is the merchant?
- God, searching for us, giving himself for us? – Worry that God would then only be wanting the greatest of us. But perhaps the church is the pearl?
- Human beings, searching for God?
- Something that’s worth more than everything else.
- Something that’s worth giving your life for.
- Something of an incommensurable value- Transcendent.
- Something that will fulfil you even if you have nothing else.
- Pearls develop over a long time, at first as an irritation to the clam (or whatever sea creature), but eventually as something beautiful.
- Something that appears very small for how valuable it is.
What is it?
- A way of being? – Eternal life on Earth.
- The Church?
Is the merchant imagery here appropriate?
Why did Jesus use parables for speaking about the Kingdom of God?