While yesterday’s parable from Mark’s Gospel contains so much meaning that I could start to unpack here, what really resonated was this line:
“With many such parables
he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.”
I was curious about this, so I dug a little deeper and found other similar phrases…
….in Matthew’s Gospel: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’” (Ouch!)
….and again, a bit more gently, perhaps, in Matthew’s Gospel: “All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:
‘I will open my mouth in parables,
I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation [of the world].'”
This return, again and again, to the “why” of Jesus’ storytelling, is intriguing. On one hand, in its harshness, I feel the guilt of knowing that I also do not understand, and oh, do I take pride in my ability to be knowledgeable, competent, and aware. On the other hand, I feel comforted by the reality that the parables are so essential to help us understand the mystery of God’s kingdom that prophets spoke about those very parables centuries before Jesus brought them to life. My fragile ego gives thanks.
Because, truly, I find myself in a space this summer in which my faith is intact, but my understanding is not. I have so many questions, from the mundane and personal to the broad, global, and existential—about the pandemic, about the divisions, oppression, destruction we are capable of creating in human society, about community, about my own place in the world after so much isolation, about what it means to be a mother in this time we’re living in, about suffering, about pain, about grief, both specific and vague, about the complexities of humanity that each of us as individuals embody as we live in the world—our capacity, even in our inherent goodness, to choose to do great harm to one another.
My understanding is not intact. In the face of that, I find myself spinning, spiraling, most days. And my most basic question is—well, now what?
I return then, a few lines earlier, to the seed in yesterday’s parable. Maybe not the seed itself, but the story. Or maybe the story is the seed. It reminds us to start small, even those of us in the middle of a life. When we’re stuck, we need just to start with that small, beautiful thing with such potential right in front of us, and a faith that it will grow—whatever it may be: that simple act of justice or compassion, that child we’re parenting who is struggling, that connection we can make with another, here and now.
Where I find some grounding is in the act of telling the story itself. That God both sees our lack of ability to understand, to see, to act correctly, yet still offers us the story, the willingness to meet us where we are in our blindness, despair, or apathy, and walk with us to build the Kingdom on earth.
Kelly Swan has worked for the Ignatian Solidarity Network since 2016, first as communications director, and now as director of advancement. She grew up in West Virginia and is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University. Kelly has worked in parish social ministry, child and family advocacy, community education and organizing, and publishing. She lives in the Cleveland, Ohio area with her children.