Guided by Search the Scriptures, I took a look at the parables in Matthew 13 in a way that better befitted a lit student.
I had always found parables fun but rather enigmatic; my imagination was often more attracted (or rather, distracted) by the scenes and images they conjured, than to the deeper meaning they gave to the framing story. Especially Matthew 13's rapid succession of brief, tableaux-esque parables. (boom! there goes a short attention span and a hyperactive imagination)
Search the Scriptures, however, gave a guideline to interpreting these parables, as the different ways individuals may enter the kingdom of heaven. Immediately I saw a great white light--all the scattered parables came together, beads strung on one necklace, complete in unity. That redemptive aha! moment that balances the love-hate relationship I have with symbolism and literary analysis.
The field parable illustrated how some people stumble on salvation unexpectedly, like discovering hidden treasure in a field. It is all the sweeter and more precious for being unexpected. The pearl merchant parable, in contrast, illustrated how others have been seeking truth, beauty, perfection, fulfilment, meaning, and finally find it in the Gospel. Their experience makes them more and more discerning, better at seeing flaws and shams after having been taken in, so that finally they can be completely convinced and confident that this is the pearl worth all other pearls, and more.
Similarly, the parable of the fishermen depicted how the Gospel draws both the 'bad and the good'--those who are truly saved and those who are not--but it's not obvious at first; all that can be seen is a messy net full of writhing fish of all shapes and sizes, all colours and weights. Maybe the beautifully patterned one with shimmery scales turns out to be poisonous, though it catches everyone's eye. Maybe the one you thought was fat and succulent turns out to be just a pufferfish full of frightened air. Maybe the ugly pockmarked one has the most meat, or the flat, skinny looking one that looks all bones actually tastes the sweetest. Soon, once the fisherman sits down to sort out the fish, the bad ones go overboard, and there's no more confusion. But for now, it doesn't matter; for now, you can't really tell, amid all the thrashing tails and spray and wet scales, and you would be foolish to insist on sorting the fish at once, to try to toss out all the unwanted ones now. Perhaps why we keep assuming that we need to sort, to know NOW, is just one of the Devil's ways of distracting us by busying us over useless tasks. Perhaps our assumption that there should only be good fish in the net is his means of stumbling us when we inevitably bump into a bad fish.
And then Search the Scriptures threw a sudden curveball question, stopping me short after leading me this far: what do these parables illustrate as the condition of true enjoyment?
Both the field digger and the pearl merchant had the same response when they found their treasure, regardless of their different backgrounds and means; they 'sold everything they had' in order to possess it. Such a dramatic response is surely intriguing. I remember thinking back to my own experience and realizing yes, that was the feeling I had felt when seeking (in my case, like the pearl merchant); wanting, desperately, to possess for myself that elusive treasure, to know what I had to do to get it. Please, O God, hear me...please, God, give it to me, show me how to get it...I don't know how after all, but I want it more than ever...
Receiving the Gospel is a whole-hearted commitment that we can only make room for by kicking out something else. We can only accept the Gospel if we're willing to sacrifice our sin. There has to be an exchange of sorts, so to speak; we must see it, and feel it, to be so valuable that it's worth this exchange.
If we don't have to lose anything in exchange, if it doesn't cost us anything so to speak--that says something about its value. We're probably settling for some second-rate imitation, a pearlescent plastic bead.
The condition of true enjoyment entails a cost.
Psalm 119: 71 --- 'It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.'
There will be times when you read this verse, and wonder what it means.
At other times it will be too painful.
Sadness is a fairly common part of everyday life, as Inside Out might have taught you. Grief, however, is different. It is not simply, like sadness, the 'opposite of happiness'. It is a complicated and extended process of emotional suffering which has a permanent effect on you. It's like an earthquake hitting a city, making your tallest skyscrapers and biggest buildings--everything that made you complacent, assured, everything that seemed so immovable and permanent to you--collapse. It negates roadmaps and street signs--what previously made perfect sense to you--and drastically changes your needs. Having faulty traffic lights fixed is suddenly not important anymore. Food, medical attention, a roof over your head--you just need the basic necessities to survive.
The process of healing, too, is like having to rebuild your demolished city--without being able to dispose of all the rubble. It remains as a foundation for the new buildings, always there as a humbling reminder of fragility, pain, and weakness--in the past, and present.
I've observed such humbling in certain people who experienced this sort of suffering. They have less assumptions. Are simpler. Kinder. Gentler. More empathetic. Less judgemental. It has truly brought them closer to Christ--closer to understanding Him--closer to being like Him. This is what Jesus is like; humble in His obedience, in His love, and in serving. He suffered too, in His time here, which is why we know He understands, and why He is so patient and gentle with us in our weaknesses. Such gentleness and empathy is only possible through humility. We can only care for others when we stop caring so much for ourselves. We can best appreciate their strengths when we have no delusions or pretensions on our own, when we aren't instinctively comparing ourselves. We can only help them discern their weaknesses when we're not busy trying to deny our own.
Watching them has taught me to have more hope and faith in suffering and in God's ability to let changes that may feel so painful to work such wonders, even in me. Perhaps the pain will never quite go away, just as earthquake prone zones experience recurring tremors. The rebuilding will take time, may be slow and constantly being set back. Sometimes that site was so badly devastated, you can never quite build something as momentous there again. But the rubble that looks so ugly, that is such a sobering reminder to you of how fragile all these buildings are, how much wreckage there once was here, is also hope in its own way. If another earthquake--and you flinch at the thought--should come and devastate this new city, you have the comfort of knowing that though you still can't withstand it, still can't predict when it will hit, you have hope of surviving and recovering again. That your first experience has equipped you to be a little--even if just a little--more able to deal with a second.
In other words, this city may not be earthquake proof, but it is proof that earthquakes are not the end.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are