On the Parabolic Nature of Christ
June 13, 2021
Psalm 20: 7
Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.
Mark 4: 26-34
He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
Today’s sermon is titled On the Parabolic Nature of Christ. “Parabolic” is a big word but it only has two definitions. Parabolic can be used to describe what is expressed in a parable. For example, we can say that the tiny mustard seed that Jesus describes growing into a giant bush is parabolic. That mustard seed is being used to illustrate a point that has nothing to do with a plant or a condiment. The other definition of parabolic comes from the realm of mathematics. Parabolic can describe a shape or a curve that is in the shape of the letter U (you may picture a satellite dish or a megaphone or the lens in a flashlight). Parabolic shapes in our world are really useful because they help us to gather scattered and unruly things like sound and light into a concentrated area so that the sound is clearer and the light is brighter. Herein lies my thesis for today that the spiritual nature of our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, is parabolic. His life and his teaching function very much like a parabolic lens, gathering the wisdom of his age and focusing it for us in his words, in his actions, and in his life’s story.
Think about it, Friends. Isn’t this why Jesus’s message has endured for millennia? He gathered the very essence of thousands of years worth of Hebrew wisdom, wisdom that reflected the progressive ideas from other great cultures in the world, as well, and he condensed this wisdom into stories, into parables, in a bold attempt to explain what is, in my opinion, the deepest mystery of all…the nature of that which we call God.
We humans, we have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. We want to know and we will go to great lengths to explore the deep mysteries; the more elusive they are, the more determined we become. Right this very minute, in southeast China, the world’s largest parabolic lens is gathering light from the farthest reaches of space. The parabolic lens is 1600 feet across; that’s a third of a mile across and over 2 million square feet of space. I can barely imagine how gigantic that is. The nestled in a natural depression in the earth. It’s nickname is Tianyan, translated as “eye of heaven.” This telescope has already allowed us to see two new quasars; one of them is 16,000 light years away from earth. This “eye of heaven” is quite literally allowing us to see across distances that we have, until now, only been able to imagine.
In our scripture reading for today, Jesus is functioning as what we could call an “eye of heaven,” offering us a way to imagine what he calls the “reign of God.” Our scriptures say “kingdom of God” but this is an unfortunate mis-translation of the Greek word basileia that means reign or kingship. To say “kingdom of God” suggests a defined physical space and Jesus is certainly not talking about a specific place, but rather a state of being in which God’s love is working with us. This state of being under the influence of God, this state of being aligned with God, is what Jesus is bringing into focus with all of teachings and with the whole of his life on earth. Jesus is our parabolic mirror that gathers the abstract and directs the essence of it right back to us, very much like the way that gigantic parabolic mirror gathers the light from space and gives form to what was once abstract and theoretical.
Giving form to what was once abstract and theoretical….isn’t this precisely the real gift of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, this unlikely prophet who embodied the wisdom of that which we call God? He is obviously human and yet he carried such a clear vision for how humanity could be liberated if we could just align our hearts and minds and actions with the love that is God.
Jesus’s audience were people who were oppressed under the foreign occupation of the Roman empire. Jesus’s words would have deeply resonated with his audience. Oppressed people in every culture, all across the ages, have been acutely aware that their survival depends on their ability to care for one another. They were and they are adept in caring for one another.
Jesus, in his parable, is painting the picture of a different paradigm, a paradigm in which all people are living in the kingdom of God, in the reign of God. In that paradigm, there would be no oppressor and there would be no oppressed. Imagine then, how welcomed his message was to the oppressed and how threatening it was to those who held power over them.
In the paradigm of God’s rule that Jesus is offering, people would flourish like the plants in the parable. When plants flourish, their ultimate goal is to produce something lasting in the form of a seed, a seed that either provide food in the short term or hold the promise for a new generation in the long term. Friends, if that were our goal, if we made our decisions based on the welfare of future generations instead of short-term profits we would be creating a new world. We would! Imagine it…a world where everyone is fed, sheltered, engaged in meaningful work, earning a living wage, secure in access to education, health care, and the ballot box, and confident in equal treatment under the law.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. Jesus dreamed of a better world. Jesus offered this parable of hope for the oppressed people of his day and I hear a message of hope for us, as well. We have great freedom and therefore a great responsibility to consider the welfare of future generations as we make our choices day by day. Small things practiced by millions of people can make profound differences.
In closing, I’m thinking about that parabolic lens on the other side of the world, that eye of heaven, and how it is gathering light from tens of thousands of light years away from us. I’m thinking that we could be gathering light, too, the light that comes from knowledge, and the light that comes from love. I am thinking, too, about the parabolic nature of Jesus and how he gathered all of the wisdom of his time and then reflected it back for his community to inspire them to care more for one another and to hold on to their hope for a better future. I pray we can hold on to our hope for our future, too, and make space in our hearts and minds for the reign of God’s love to have more effect in our lives and in our world. So be it. Amen.
God of mercy, I pray for our world. I pray that we may hold fast to the golden thread of hope for the future of humanity. Save us, please, from sinking into apathy. We pray for loving arms of outreach within our community that can help to lift up those brothers and sisters who are struggling. For the many service and aid agencies on the state and federal levels, we send prayers of thankfulness and prayers for strength and endurance in their efforts to counteract addiction, mental illness, violence, and poverty. We are in desperate need of a great shift in our culture. In this place, together, this morning, we are aiding in the cultural shift as we seek for truth, live into the loving kindness of Christ, and share our best selves with one another. Help us, God, to become the change we wish to see in the world. Let’s join together in the prayer that Jesus gifted us…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
Benediction: I leave you now with the words of Paul in his letter to the Colossians, chapter 2, verses 2 and 3:“May your hearts be comforted and well-equipped in charity and in all the riches of complete understanding so you may know the mystery of God.”