Jesus uses parables as a teaching method to point to a future reality: the Kingdom of God which is to come. The parables are signs along the way to help us find our way to the Kingdom and to recognize our destination.
But a parable also reveals to us how different the Kingdom of God is from what we might imagine – in fact the parable expands our imagination so that we truly see how the Kingdom of God is not merely the best of human imagination, but it is totally different from how humans would imagine it. The Kingdom is truly God’s and heavenly and not just the product of human aspiration, intelligence or creativity.
Jesus told many parables about what the kingdom of heaven is like. There are many things we might think about when we think about God’s Kingdom. We might think the Kingdom of God is something which comes in total power and transforms the world permanently. Or it is the end of this world and the establishment of God’s glory. Or it is the Judgment Day and the end of all things. It is the final destruction of all evil and of death. It is the fulfillment of all God’s promises and the wiping away of every tear, sorrow, sighing, and suffering. It is the totality of God’s glory and the end to all that is sinful, evil and wrong.
Let us consider what Jesus says in Matthew 21:43 –
” Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.”
The context of this saying is that Jesus just told the parable of the householder and the unruly tenants. Additionally the chief priests and the Pharisees clearly perceive that Jesus spoke this parable about them (they do form an allegorical understanding, they realize they are the wicked tenants in the parable). However, what they fail to understand is in what manner this parable is a sign of the Kingdom of God. Their minds have moved far away from God’s Kingdom, and they are now filled with hatred for Jesus because they fear He is simply trying to turn the crowds against them. So they have ears but cannot hear for their minds are filled with their own understanding of the parable, rather than allowing the parable to reveal the Kingdom of God. In fact their hearts and minds have been narrowed by a legalistic and literalistic reading of the Torah.
Jessus asks them, “Have you never read in the scriptures…?” Of course they read it, countless times. But they didn’t understand it, or apply its meaning to their lives. They have eyes to read it, and ears to hear it proclaimed in the synagogue, but they are blind and deaf to its meaning and purpose as they have hardened their hearts and stiffened their necks by making their own interpretation of the Scriptures as more important than the Scriptures themselves. So though the Kingdom of God is essential to them, they have blinded and deafened themselves to the Kingdom by the very way they interpret the Scriptures.
Read again Matthew 21:43 above.
Note some strange things about the Kingdom of God:
It something which can be taken away from you.
You can have it and lose it.
It is something which can be given to someone else.
And you can be excluded from having it.
Others can have it, but you will not. Or you can have it and others might not.
The Kingdom really belongs to those who produce the fruits of the Kingdom, not to those who have been entrusted with the Torah.
What is this kingdom of God that it has these characteristics?
What does this one scriptural verse reveal to us about the Kingdom of God that we don’t get from the other parables of the Kingdom or from the prophecies of the Old Testament?
The Kingdom of God is a whole lot stranger than we imagine, for the description is almost that it is something small, that can be handed around, given and taken away.
Parables are given to make us think – to stretch our imaginations so that our hearts and minds can better experience and understand the Kingdom of God; or perhaps more correctly to prepare our hearts and minds to be able to see the kingdom even when it appears so differently than we imagined. The parables help prevent our spiritual lives from being limited by our own imagination, reason and intelligence.
Sometimes like the disciples we are too quick to want someone else to tell us what the parables mean. But the Word of God contained in parables was proclaimed by Christ to the crowds, to the public, to the world, to all who have ears to hear. Before leaping to someone else’s conclusion about a parable, see in you can hear the Word of God. What is God saying to you?
Don’t rush to look at the footnotes in the Orthodox Study Bible. Those footnotes are not the Scripture. Let the Word of God dwell in you, and grow in you, and grow the Kingdom of God within you like a mustard seed producing a huge bush.
Don’t be eager to give the parable over to someone else to explain or understand, for that is like having the Kingdom of God taken away from you and given to someone else to produce its fruits. Let the parable dwell in you richly, productively, abundantly, fruitfully. Let it grow slowly, and allow it to produce an abundance of fruit in you.
Be the farmer and gardener who takes weeks, months or even years to cultivate fruit from the garden of your heart. Don’t be quick to seek answers, take the time to form the questions which need to be asked. To gather fruit from the orchard, you have to do a lot of work – to fertilize and water the trees, and to protect them from insects, disease, and drought, to restore them after storms, to prune the wild branches.
That is the way we need to approach the parables of Jesus. Yes commentaries might help us gain some insight into the parables, but we have to let those parables speak in and to our own hearts. Otherwise, when we let someone else formulate the meaning for us, the benefit from the joyful fruit of the Spirit, while for us the Word and Spirit remains outside of our experience. We certainly should listen to others experience, that is what being part of the Church is about – to gain the wisdom of all of those who have experienced the fruit of God’s Word and Spirit. But then we have to let those seeds sprout and propagate in our hearts, and we have to work the soil of our hearts. That is why we read the Scriptures to this day, and don’t assume that just because someone else gained fruit from the Scripture that we should be satisfied with that. God’s Word is a seed to be sown in each heart, and to produce the fruits of the Kingdom, so that we will be given that Kingdom by God.