Jesus was an unpredictable fellow. I reckon it was sometimes pretty frustrating to be around him. He did unexpected things, he is elusive, difficult to pin down. He tells stories without explaining them, leaving you with more questions than answers.
Its part of what makes him, for me at least, such an intriguing and engaging figure. Our friend yes but taken seriously this isn’t a cosy, easy friendship, life with Christ is full of surprises.
I think that’s why in each of the Gospel’s in one way or another, they ask the question ‘if you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ In other words make it obvious, keep on message and tell us what we think we need to hear.
But no, that kind of question invites the wrong answer, hence Jesus’ reluctance to engage with it. Instead as the Gospel reminded us today ‘he did not speak to them except in parables.’ But why?
The reason for me is about the nature of our relationship because we’re invited into a grown up relationship with him. So Jesus is not our master and we his slave at least not in the conventional sense rather he is our friend and companion.
That’s why he sometimes seems elusive because he invites us into a depth of relationship beyond the superficial, invites to say yes to him, not just once but again and again as we go through life sharing our journey with him.
On that journey we meet him in so many ways not least through his parables, we heard one this morning. These are great stories that get beneath the surface of things, they challenge us and lead us to think about things differently. Consequently they might sometimes give us more questions than answers, but exploring those questions is part of what faith is all about.
But isn’t always easy, that’s why we sometimes want to echo those words ‘If you are the Christ tell us plainly.’ The desire for simple answers seems to run deep.
Just think about how we sometimes do live in that place when we ‘judge a book by its cover’ as the saying goes. When we let first impressions colour our view of someone before we’ve even got to know them. When we hold fast to our belief that a leopard cannot change its spots.
It’s into this superficial desire to see things in black and white and with certainty that Jesus, the great story teller comes. For through these stories, these parables, Jesus time and again unlocks our imagination, invites us to get beneath the surface, to see things as God sees them.
That theme (seeing things as God sees them) is picked up in our first reading from the Old Testament Book of Samuel when we heard of how David, the one memorably described as ‘ruddy, with beautiful eyes and handsome’ was plucked from the field to be the great king.
Those who went before him all looked better on paper but as the reading reminded us ‘The Lord looks on the heart.’ God looks on the heart, is always seeing more.
And Jesus often through his parables reminds us that God still looks on the heart, still looks below the surface and all the nonsense that gets in the way and sees what might be rather than what is.
Think for example of this morning’s Gospel when Jesus talks of the tiny mustard seed and likens it to our faith. I guess all of us can think of times, perhaps now is one of them, when we think of our faith as being just like a tiny little mustard seed, something so small it could so easily overwhelmed.
Yet Jesus comes and says, cherish, nurture that little seed for from it can come the greatest of all shrubs, so great in fact that other birds will come and seek shelter in it.
Jesus used this and other parables to unlock the heart and imagination. Through them we’re given images to linger over through which we are drawn deeper in our relationship with Christ and invited to live, seeing this world and each other as God sees them.
This morning then we’re reminded that in some way God invites us to be living parables. A people who tell the story of God’s love here and now. Striving to look at the heart of things, to get below the surface, to not judge a book by its cover, to believe in hope, for things aren’t always what they seem.
I’m always challenged by those words in our post communion prayer at the moment when we say ‘Keep us firm in the hope you have set before us.’ To live that hope though, especially when things are difficult isn’t always easy, it’s tempting to retreat into the world of convenient truths, yet as followers of Christ, believing in hope is part of our gift to the world.
For with God there is always more, with God even a tiny mustard seed can grow into the greatest of all shrubs. So as we are sent out from here we promise to look deeper, to see beyond and more, to see things as God saw David, looking on the heart and a world full of potential.
So three things to take home today
- That Jesus uses parables to draw us into a relationship.
- That those parables seek to unlock the imagination, get beneath the surface and help us see things differently, to see things as God sees them.
- That we are called to be living parables, who strive also look upon the heart with hope, see things not just as they are now but how they might be.
We give thanks for the gift of parables to enlighten, shape and change us and pray that God may bless us as we seek to be living parables that lead others to his love.