The Daily Office (Episcopal) is slugging its way through Matthew’s parables, and that always brings up some questions. Is the metaphorical language of the parables concrete or abstract? Are the parables meant to be easily and quickly grasped by Jesus’ listeners, or impossible to understand without authorized interpretation? When Jesus does explain a parable does it become the only meaning possible? When a parable is not explained, can the Church ascribe to itself the authority to offer one and only one interpretation?
For my part, I think the language of the parables is very concrete. The images of paths and seeds, wheat and weeds, coins, bushes, birds and all the other things are the stuff of ordinary life. The immediacy of how the parts relate in any one of the parables would be obvious in the minds of the listeners. So would be the recognition that each of them was a brief morality story not to be taken literally but metaphorically or allegorically. I’ve had little arguments with others about that. The big arguments start with interpretation. Consider the parable of the sower, the seed and the path. If Jesus told his disciples what each part meant, then there is one and only one way to understand it, right? It doesn’t matter that the majority of scholars claim that the Jesus explanation was a later addition to the text. The fact is that we are stuck with the text we have and congregations of the faithful who are not interested in what scholars have to say.
So my solution is to enter into conversation with Jesus and the disciples by asking my own questions. What if we are the sower; what if we are the seed; what if we are the path; what if we are the weeds; what if we are the sun or wind; what if we are the rain, or lack of it; what if we are the devil in someone else’s life; what if all the soils are present in us? Like the frustrated parent of an overly curious five year old, Jesus might say “Enough with the questions Steve, go to bed.” So far he has not. So far he honors my questions and explores answers with me, and isn’t that a part of what it means to live in companionship with the living scripture?
I feel sorry for those who can memorize dozens of scripture verses but are unable to enter into conversation with them. I feel guilty about those who have come through my pastoral care and left without knowing it at all, neither memorizing nor conversing.