Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Parables Aren't Like This

Many of Jesus' parables follow a familiar pattern: "The kingdom of heaven is like..." and he goes on to give some illustration from the world of their day that might help his audience to understand heaven just a little better. It seems to me that these illustrations are always in the affirmative. That is to say, Jesus always says "the kingdom of heaven is like such and such," rather than ever saying "the kingdom of heaven is not like such and such."

This strikes me as a little odd. One of the things we often like to affirm about God is God's "transcendence," that is, God (and, by extension, heaven*) is unlike anything we can imagine. Whatever we can get our heads around, God and heaven are so much bigger and greater than that.

But even beyond that, if our understanding of Jesus' verbal bouts with the Pharisees (and others) are any indication, there were plenty of misconceptions of God (and, again, of heaven) to be had. In this vein, I posit the following parable for the modern era:
The kingdom of heaven is not like a new car lot, where you can choose whatever car you feel suits your own purposes, or where the owner might send a salesman to you to make sure that you choose a particular car and no other. No, the kingdom of heaven is indeed not like that....
     —The Gospel According to Another Mark Entirely, chapter and verse to be determined

*It is probably worth noting that Matthew uses the phrase "the kingdom of heaven" in precisely the same places that other gospels use the phrase "the kingdom of God."

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