For the past few Sundays, we’ve been hearing parables in church—the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast, parables comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to people who sell everything for a pearl or hidden treasure in a field or to a dragnet that draws in everything in its path.
Parables are whimsical and oblique. As Emily Dickinson wrote, they “tell all the truth but tell it slant”; just when we think we understand a parable, it slips from our grasp but always leaves us with a hope for something larger and more wonderful than we can imagine.
We have come to the end of the parables in our cycle of readings and even take a break completely from the Gospel of Matthew this Sunday since August 6th is the Feast of the Transfiguration. This is the day when we remember that moment when Jesus took some of his followers—James, Peter, and John—up to the mountain to pray and he was transfigured before them, his clothes and face dazzling just as Moses’ face shone after speaking with God on the mountain.
Although the Transfiguration is not a parable, it is a moment of epiphany, an “A-ha!” moment when the divine breaks into the mundane, like the koan shock of the parables Jesus tells. All show us something new about God and God’s kingdom (or is it kin-dom?); all are apparent only to those who pay attention, who continue pondering, who are open to the marvelous.
As I wrote recently, the only way I know to approach such things is with poetry, so I leave you with a poem from one of my all-time favorite poets, Anglican priest R. S. Thomas. Here he considers the parables of the pearl and of the treasure in the field while gesturing back to Moses, too.
The Bright Field
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
See you in church!