Wednesday, October 26, 2011

the secrets of heaven

In our Gospel reading today, the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks  in parables to the crowds. The implication is: why not speak plainly to them, just as you do to us? I wonder why they ask that question. Jesus wasn't the first to use parables. We find other examples in the Old Testament. True, he seems to use them a lot. But then, they are such great teaching tools. People can learn so much more from a story than a plain statement of dogma. And it is easier to remember.

Jesus reply is fascinating. He says '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.' He seems to be saying that for those who open themselves to him in faith, understanding comes easily; but for those who do not, what he has to say seems a mystery.

Somewhat ironically it seems that in order to penetrate, even slightly, the mysteries of faith requires faith. I'm sure that must appear something of a 'cop-out' to those without faith (or those who think they do not have faith ... I'm not at all sure how many, in their heart of hearts, are truly convinced that life, the universe, & everything is a meaningless accumulation of random chance). But to me it makes sense. An act of faith is required to open one's eyes to the deeper mysteries of faith.

But the good news is, that however poor and small you think your faith is, however weak it is and however little exercise you give it, it is enough for a beginning. Remember that Jesus once said that even a tiny amount of faith, faith the size of a mustard seed, if it were sincerely held could move a mountain. I often puzzled over that statement, knowing that there have been a great many people of faith, and having yet to hear of a mountain being moved. (Of course, a person of faith would not ask for such a thing to happen; only someone without faith, looking for proof ... it's a bit of a Catch-22 really.) But I wonder if, in a sense, he meant that a tiny bit of faith was enough to move the mountain of doubt that we can all carry within us at times?

In which case we can rejoice. Because it means that when we read the Gospels, or hear them being read to us, we can hear Jesus speaking directly to us. And we can know that, even if it is only in our own frail and weak way, we are learning the secrets of heaven.

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