The Naked Man – pt. 33

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If you’re new to this series, you can read the introduction here.

“Would you mind helping me sit down?” Miryam asked Rachel. As she took the old woman’s arm and eased her into her chair, Miryam smiled up at her and said, “My strength is fading.” Seeing the alarmed expression on the young woman’s face, Miryam laughed. “I mean, it has been a long day and I am tired.” Rachel placed a shawl around her shoulders, and Miryam placed a wrinkled hand over the hand that was arranging the folds of the material. “Thank you. Here,” she patted the seat beside her, “sit beside me tonight.” As Rachel sat, and turned to face her host, Mark walked up and laid a hand on his mother’s shoulder in greeting. “Please,” he said, “don’t let me interrupt you.” Rachel turned back to Miryam. “I keep thinking about what you said last night. About ‘the mystery.’ I’m not sure I fully understand what you meant. Did people have to have some kind of, I don’t know, special knowledge to understand what Jesus was saying? Like those gentile mystery cults?”

“No,” said Miryam. “Jesus was not really one for esoteric stories! The parables aren’t some kind of ‘earthly story with a heavenly meaning.’ They are thoroughly grounded in mundane details – ‘it is like this!’ declares Jesus.  His stories describe the frustrations and hopes of peasant farmers, as we heard the other night: they are intelligible to the poor and not just to the educated elite. Jesus’ teaching was not to conceal the mystery, but to illuminate and reveal.” “Like his life,” said Mark. “Jesus did not act in secret – he did everything out in the open. Which he described in another parable.” “Well,” said Rachel, “let’s hear it then!” Mark smiled, and rose to address the gathering.

“As I said last night,” Mark began, “Jesus taught many things in parables. ‘Does the lamp come to be put under a bowl, or under a bed? Or does it come to be put on the lampstand? For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor is it ‘secreted away’, but is made apparent. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.’” He looked around the courtyard. “The mystery of the kingdom of G_d was present in Jesus: what appears to be hidden was revealed in him. It was precisely because people understood exactly what he was saying that he attracted such opposition: for his proclamation of the kingdom revealed people’s true loyalties. His teaching was polarizing, for it confronted the competing claims of those who claimed to speak for G_d. Which is why he went on to say this to his disciples: ‘Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it shall be measured to you; and more shall be given you besides. For whoever has, to him shall more be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.’”

“Well,” called out Yiftach, “that’s hardly an ‘esoteric secret’ now, is it?” Several people nodded their heads in agreement. “We all know that’s the way things work – the ‘haves’ get richer while the ‘have nots’ get poorer.” His companion chimed in. “Sounds like Jesus’ version of the kingdom of G_d is no different from what we all know to be true: it works well for those at the top – not so much for the rest of us.” “No!” declared Mark. “That is not what Jesus is saying. ‘Take care what you listen to…’ he begins. He’s warning his disciples against listening to the rival ideologies of the Pharisees, of that of Herod and the ruling class, that of the pious profiteering of the scribal class, and yes, against the propaganda of the militant nationalists. Jesus is saying, for those with ears to hear – and eyes to see – if they embrace the reality of the kingdom that came with Jesus, then when it comes in its fullness, they will experience it to an even greater extent.”

Rachel spoke up, somewhat hesitantly. “So we’re back to the parable of the soils. It’s the seed that G_d sows to the good soil, and the miraculous harvest it produces. But those who refuse to see that the kingdom has come in Jesus,” she turned to Miryam, “the ‘secret’ in plain sight as you say, well, what they give themselves to will prove to be fruitless. Is that it?” “Yes!” declared Mark emphatically. “That’s it! That lies at the heart of all these parables. Listen…”

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