Thursday, July 17, 2014

Parables Better Left Unexplained

Some things are best left unexplained, and I’m beginning to wonder whether Jesus, when he was asked by his disciples to explain the parable of the wheat and the weeds, should have said, “No, you go figure it out.” The interpretation he gives is an allegory—each element in the story corresponds to an element in real life. That would be great if everything lined up in a way that made sense, but I’m still scratching my head. I don’t think the interpretation is finished. Maybe Jesus was just beginning the conversation about what the wheat and weeds meant. In fact, as I continue to I consider the interpretation that Jesus gave, I find myself wondering whether the interpretation itself is yet another parable.

Here are some of the reasons that Jesus’ allegorical interpretation of his own parable won’t work: 
  • “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man” Why is the Son of Man sowing seeds? Why is he responsible for scattering the good people into the world? The “Son of Man” is typically an image associated with the end of the world not its beginning or its ongoing processes.
  •  “the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” Since when has the devil been the source of anyone? Maybe the devil leads people astray, but you can’t change wheat into a weed. If seeds really are bad from the time of their sowing, God must be responsible for that.
  • “while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat…” Who is sleeping? The Son of Man? God? Everyone? If the allegory holds up, then evil snuck into the world when God wasn’t paying attention. That means that the devil’s work is only possible because God isn’t doing his job. But that can’t be right. The one who keeps us neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121).
  • “…an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away” Since when is the devil’s work over? The evil one didn’t just sneak into the world, sow his seeds, and then depart. Surely the devil is still active.

All of that to say…let’s remember that Jesus’ interpretation still needs interpretation. The work isn’t done yet. Jesus might have explained the parable to his disciples, but they still had some thinking to do, and so do we. It’s not supposed to be a complete or perfect answer. Jesus’ response only begins the conversation. He’s inviting them to start thinking about the parable by looking for connections between seeds and people, the harvest and judgment. Then, we have to start there and let the fuller understanding grow in time.

No comments:

Post a Comment