Isaiah by Michael Angelo, Sistine Chapel
A friend of mine always went to watch some of the most mind-twisting and complex, even disconcerting plots that came up in cinema. He used to say, cinema, like theatre was meant to be a semi-sacred experience. It was meant to make you think about life, draw you into the drama, so that you are changed in some way. That was certainly how the Greeks understood it. Theatre for them was a cathartic, therapeutic experience. I should admit, most times, I went to the cinema for two hours of escape rather than some deep, religious experience. The lesser the complexity, then, the better. We know what’s the good, the bad and the ugly, and everyone’s happy.
The parables of Jesus pose a similar dilemma to us. Why did Jesus speak in parables? Was it to simply convey a complex message in everyday, easy to understand language? Undoubtedly, there is a ‘ready-to-grasp’-ness about the parables. They have narrative plots and characters, some who are good and some bad, and maybe a few puzzling elements. But our gospel today hints that there is something deeper and even disconcerting purpose behind the parables. They were in reality, more like Greek theatre. Their real meaning and purpose lies hidden. Rather than letting you see and understand clearly, they are there to draw you into their drama, without giving easy answers, any answers. Instead, they pose a question: Do you think you can see? They stand in judgement before you and demand to know which way you will turn, whether for or against Jesus. During his days on earth, the number of Jesus’ disciples kept shrinking, especially as he neared the Cross. Some decided he was just mad (Mk 3:21), others that he was asking too much (Matt 19:22) but still others followed him more closely, confessing their ignorance (Jn 6:68). Today, the Church, which is the body of Christ, poses the same dilemma before us. When we don’t understand something that the Church proclaims, we can walk closer, or walk away – and the birds come and swallow up the seed that’s fallen in that path.
When the Word comes, it can unsettle us, challenging some of our core beliefs, our worldviews. There is a blindness we all have, and in front of the Word, it is easy to take offence. And at the beginning of the parables, Jesus gives us another parable to ask us how we listen. If we will repent, if we can admit that our eyes don’t see and ears don’t hear, and ask for healing, we can be healed. The Word, which comes like the rain and snow from heaven, will accomplish its work. The ancient practice of Lectio Divina (Holy Reading), helps precisely in this, to learn to listen and place our lives before the authority of God’s Word in our everyday lives. A simple search for ‘Lectio Divina’ on the internet should help explain this profoundly simple yet powerful form of praying with the Scriptures for those unfamiliar with it. Open your bibles. Place yourself before the Word today. And let it heal your heart.