Matthew 13:10-17

Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’

With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. Matthew 13:10-17

Gnosticism describes a system of philosophical/theological thought that was both popular and powerful in the time right before and after the writing of the New Testament. Gnostic ideas – that creation is an extension of a lesser god, that human beings carry the divine spark of this creation, that salvation consists of gaining the insider knowledge (the gnosis) which frees us from the material world and reunites us with the divine – became a piece of the litmus test of spiritual writings. Gnostic ideas were rejected as false teachings, as heresy. New Testament era writings, such as the Gospel of Mary, were ultimately rejected because of those influences.

I was reminded of this because of the answer Jesus gives to his disciples’ question about why he teaches in parables. This is always confusing to us. It doesn’t make sense to us that Jesus would intentionally obscure what he is trying to convey to the world. We would think he would make everything as simple and as obvious as possible. Jesus’s answer, with his quote from Isaiah, only deepens the mystery rather than clearing things up.

But what if we hear what Jesus says as descriptive rather than prescriptive? That is, rather than thinking that Jesus carefully doles out insight only to those who can handle the truth, keeping everyone else in the dark (the prescriptive idea), Jesus simply observes how it is that two different people, existing in the identical time and space, can see two completely different realities at the same time (the descriptive idea.) Isn’t Jesus on to something here? Isn’t that how it always works?

I look out at the congregation I serve every Sunday morning and I am very aware of the many differences in the lives of our people. Men and women see the world differently. We have people who are very wealthy and those just squeaking by. We have people of different races and ethnic histories. Some are very politically liberal and some are very politically conservative. Clearly, this means that we see things differently from one another, even though we are mostly baptized Christians all seeking to follow Jesus in and through a common Christian community.

As the years have gone by I know that I see things differently than I used to. The heart of baptism used to mean how easily God makes it for us to identify with Jesus – a splash of water, the Trinitarian formula, and we are joined to Christian community. Today I see it much more as a sign of humility – whether we understand it or not, baptism includes our willingness to do what God tells us to do.

I used to see Holy Communion as a mystical moment where Jesus helps us see God’s presence in everything even as we focus on Jesus coming to us in bread and wine. It was, back then, an insider meal for those who are baptized and believe. Today I see God’s wisdom in calling us to an experience which requires that we show up for one another in the same room, like being home for dinner by 6:00 PM if we expect to eat that night.

I used to see Christianity as a set of conclusions, the goal of life was to convince everyone to accept the same conclusions. Today I see the faith as a conversation, the goal of which is to truly hear the other. Not that I believe that all truth is relative or that absolute truth doesn’t exist. It’s just that I think absolute truth is the person of Jesus and that Jesus’ goal is to bring people together, even when, or maybe especially when, they disagree, not to drive them apart.

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we don’t like to admit to our limitations or our short-comings. We are blind to our own blindness. We seek a kind of certainty that promises to quiet our anxiety and remove our doubts. We tilt at windmills and hit one another in our quest. Open our hearts and minds, not only to the working of your Holy Spirit, but also to one another. Guide us to attend to one another rather than attacking those who see life so differently. Help us see what you would have us see. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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