Today’s lesson (#11 in the GD Manual) focuses on the parables of Christ and was prepared by Clive Durham, with an Introduction and Postscript by Invictus Pilgrim.
I am not in the habit of quoting Bruce R. McConkie, but I did find the following to be an insightful description of the nature and purpose of parables: “Parables are a call to investigate the truth; to learn more; to inquire into the spiritual realities, which, through them, are but dimly viewed. Parables start truth seekers out in the direction of further light and knowledge and understanding; they invite men to ponder such truths as they are able to bear in the hope of learning more.” (The Mortal Messiah, Vol.2, p.245)
Today’s lesson merely skims the surface of the rich mine available to all through study of and reflection upon the parables of Christ. In Matthew 13, Jesus himself explained the purpose of parables: to give eyes to see and ears to hear. Through the rich symbolism of the parables, we are encouraged to look at the world around us in a different way, a more insightful way, in order to discover truths that are there for those who look and listen.
And we shouldn’t look to find “the” meaning of parables. For if we go down this road, we will miss the lessons that are hidden in such parables for us. Remember Nephi’s counsel:
I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.
1 Nephi 19:23
Christ was a great teacher. He spoke directly, quietly, simply, in a way that conveyed complex concepts understandably. He taught sophisticated truths to humble people in a manner that not only achieved understanding, but secured commitment from those he taught.
Today’s lesson deals with Christ’s favorite mode of instruction, the use of parables. Indeed, nearly one third of his New Testament teachings were in the form of parables.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, a parable signifies in general a comparison or parallel, by which one thing is used to illustrate another. It is intended to stir curiosity and requires the listener to exercise some degree of intellectual analysis to derive its true meaning. It is this effort that in the end builds faith and strengthens testimony of the truths the parables are intended to illustrate.
While the use of parables has a long Jewish tradition, Christ capitalized on this tradition to teach powerful lessons about concepts central to the Gospel message. It should be noted that most Christian authors view these parables not just as examples to illustrate God’s plan for his children, but as actual witnesses of God and the spiritual world that surrounds us.
With regard to his rationale for teaching in parables, Christ used a parable to explain. This explanation is found in the parable of the sower.
“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:1-10 NIV.
Curious as to why he used parables to teach, the disciples asked him directly. His reply is revealing and profound.
“Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them … This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand … “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. “ Matthew 13:11-16.
Simply put, Christ taught in parables to accomplish two ends. First, he wished to conceal deeper truths from unbelievers that he knew would reject his word. Second, he wanted to teach revealed truth to believers using metaphorical tools that he knew they would understand.
To interpret parables accurately it is important to first determine the central truth the parable is attempting to teach. To do that, it is necessary to understand the parable within the context of Jesus’ time. Words, phrases, and experiences may, taken out of the context of Jesus’ time, be entirely misleading.
At the same time, we must avoid the urge to over-analyze the parable. While there may be a propensity to attach symbolic meaning to minor details, these details are usually offered by the Savior to complete the storyline and typically have no deeper spiritual significance. Attaching meaning to these symbols would transform the parable into allegory, undermining and denigrating the impact of the parable itself.
Sharing the Truth about Being Gay
With that as background, it’s time to get to the bottom line. How does all of this apply to those of us who (as Anonymous/Bryan so eloquently assured us this past week) are “choosing” the “gay lifestyle”?
To me the lesson is fairly clear. Following Christ’s example, we must teach the truth. We must stand as witnesses of that truth about ourselves and our lives at all times and in all places. We must be willing to kindly yet clearly spread the Good News that being gay is a gift from God, that we are worthy men and women who are created in His image, that He loves us and answers our prayers, and that this knowledge brings us joy.
We must constantly be searching for the right way to spread the truth. Sometimes it might be in parables, allegory, or analogy. Sometimes it might best be shared directly, simply, sincerely. The important point is that for the Spirit to bear witness of this truth to those we teach, it must be shared with kindness, meekness and love, avoiding contention, anger and conflict.
My gay brothers and sisters, it is time for each of us to step from under the shadow of complacency and fear. It is time for each of us to stand in the light of day and speak clearly, thoughtfully, with the conviction of our cause. There are many among us in our community who have long shouldered the burden of truth and to them we owe a great debt. As a result of their efforts, the world has changed from the way it was.
But more change is required. It is time for all of us to step out forcefully, fearlessly, united in our cause. As the world sees our numbers and our virtue, it cannot help but appreciate our value.
The alternative is unacceptable. If we fail to take up this challenge, others (like Anonymous/Bryan) will continue to spread misunderstanding, falsehood, and bigotry, even hate --unopposed.
Again, I think the challenge for us who are gay and are Mormons of various stripes is to look at the parables in a way that we most likely haven’t previously. We have heard “official” interpretations over and over again in lessons and over various pulpits. But the time has come for us to liken these parables to us and find out what messages there may be for us.
By way of example, I’d like to quote from an article found on www.whosoever.org, a website devoted to support of Gay Christians. This article stresses the importance of what we can learn from the parables about “being present”:
“Jesus understood the importance of being present. Every moment of his life was dedicated to being present with people in their pain, their suffering and their joy. He often berated his disciples for missing the point -- for not being present with people. Instead they would whine about how much time Jesus spent with the people or wish to send people away when they became annoying.
“Jesus expressed the importance of being present by using parables. The parable of the sower is a valuable example of being present. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells about seeds being sown -- some land on rocky ground, others among thorns and still others on good soil.
“Those sown on rocky ground hear the word but fall away at the first sign of persecution and trouble because they have not roots. Seeds that fall among thorns yield nothing because they get caught up in the cares of the world and forget the word. The seeds that fall on good soil will bear fruit -- because they hear the word and understand.
“The metaphor is unmistakable. Those who live in the future live on rocky ground -- they have no roots. They are always thinking about "one day" when they will be happy, "one day" when they will have abundance, "one day" when they will have the perfect partner. Still others find themselves among the thorns of the past. They cannot see themselves clear of the cares of their inner world where their "remember whens" overwhelm their future and their present. But, those who fall on good soil realize that the "word" is the present moment. The "word" gives them life -- it speaks to their innermost being, sprouting strong roots and bearing good fruit.
“What we all must realize is that we are all planted in the good soil. We only need to realize the power of the present moment to begin growing our strong roots and bearing the good fruit of a life that is vital, alive and awake! Those who find themselves in "bad" soil are not predestined to a terrible fate. All they must do is realize that they too can claim the good soil of the present moment and flourish.”
Another example of looking at parables from a fresh perspective, particularly thought a “gay lens” comes from Daniel HelmIniak, of whom I have previously written on my blog. A former Catholic theologian who is gay and has ministered to the gay community for decades, Helminiak has written of a hunger for spirituality in the gay and lesbian community despite the rejection by mainstream religion. He believes gays and lesbians already have a deep understanding of spirituality:
"There is a lot of honesty and goodwill in our community. That is the core of spirituality. We are a good people. We'd have to be honest to do what we're doing. It would be much easier to cop out and pretend and go along with the rest … What I do in my book is spell out the criteria for what is healthy spiritually … It will help the gay community to recognize the fact that we're okay, to rejoice in the spiritual sensitivity that's already there …
"For the gay and lesbian community, which has felt rejected by religion from the start and still feels condemned, many have left religion but still seek some spiritual sustenance. My approach allows gays and lesbians to develop a whole spirituality."
That whole spirituality is based on what Helminiak calls, "human authenticity." Helminiak points out that a complete spirituality is more than just a belief. He cites the parable of judgment in Matthew 25:34-45 “[Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me”] and comments, "What's fascinating is that the people who are being praised did not even know of Jesus. What mattered was how they acted. That's spirituality, whether it has to do with God or not," Helminiak observed.
"There's something basic to being a human being that requires us to be open minded, willing to question and pursue things, to marvel to be in awe, in reverence, to be honest about things to be good-willed," he continued. "That to me is the core of spirituality. That's what leads people to talk about God. If you take marvel and awe to its ultimate conclusion then you realize that we stand before absolute mystery. People will call that mystery God."
Speaking of those who have been outcast, for some reason which I cannot articulate, I feel impressed to conclude this lesson with the following song. I hope it will be meaningful to someone “out there” in light of what has been written here.