Tag Archive: parable

Jesus began his ministry with a call to action, and a promise: the standard covenant of Christian life.

“…Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”-Matthew 4:17.

John the Baptist heralded the Lord’s coming with this same message.

“…Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”-Matthew 3:2.

To state their message plainly: Forgive and gain peace.

Without forgiveness, our mind struggles perpetually to obscure our guilt. We fight ourselves, when we don’t forgive ourselves; we fight each other, when we don’t forgive each other. Always fighting, never living.

Remember the forgiveness equation: Understanding + Acceptance = Forgiveness. Understand why someone did something wrong. We don’t have to agree with what they (or we) did. We just have to walk in their moccasins, and then accept it. It’s real. It happened. Accept it.

We all have our own personal covenant. Specifics vary. But that’s the standard for our side of our agreement with life, with God.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace….”-John 16:33.

Just as God sent Moses to free his people from slavery to Egypt, God sent Jesus to free us from sin. Or, more precisely, Jesus’ teachings promise us that if we forgive, or show mercy, compassion, any form of love, then we gain all aspects of love.

“At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.”-John 14:20.

One small seed carries within itself the infinite tree of peace of mind. One part contains the blueprint for the whole.

Within that seed lies the kingdom of heaven.

“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field.”-Matthew 13:31.

My next-door neighbor, a very kind, widowed, elderly woman, loves puzzles. Her favorites are of 500 pieces. She saves the most beautiful of them-a tabby cat sleeping on a colorful quilt, a waterfall surrounded by a verdant forest, a flower field stretching into the distance-and frames them.

I asked her how she put together something so complicated, requiring so much patience. Her answer, with a wise, mischievous twinkle: “One piece at a time.”

We understand love this way. God reveals His will this way. We realize our potential, our capacity for good, and are reborn, reaching the kingdom of heaven, this way.

The mustard seed grows, from a seemingly insignificant grain, to a three-feet wide, twelve-feet tall tree. One seed, one puzzle piece, one act of good will; one small display of affection, to someone who feels unworthy; one nudge toward hope, for someone teetering on the edge of hopelessness: The seed grows this way.

“Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.”-Matthew 13:32.

All things start small: A great basketball player picks up a ball, and awkwardly dribbles it for the first time; a single blade of grass sprouts in a barren field, and heralds a sea of green; a future married couple meets and greets each other, and share a smile that becomes a lifetime; my neighbor chooses one puzzle piece, and places it on her table.

How do these things happen? Faith. Everything takes time. And as we wait, we must have faith.

“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?”-James 2:14.

As we wait, and exercise our patience, allowing our faith to guide us, our works determine the fruit of our seeds. The awkward dribbler becomes a great basketball player by learning the game, and practicing it; the single blade of grass becomes the Great Plains with rainfall and good soil; if the future married couple spend their first dates arguing and sneering at each other, they won’t fall in love.

We accomplish faith’s purpose, the miracle of patience, by our works: one dribble at a time, one blade of grass, one smile, one kind act, one puzzle piece at a time.

A watched pot never boils. Why? Because the water boils by God’s will, not ours. Let God’s work be done, but also, we must do what we can to show our love and patience, with understanding and reverence for all.

“For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes.”-Luke 6:44.

The journey determines the destination. We might think it’s the other way around, that the destination limits how we get there. But since we don’t know the future, or have any idea where we’re going, and all we have is now, the successive series of now moments determines the result. The tree’s fruit depends on what we plant, and how we care for that which we sowed.

“And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.”-Luke 17:6.

Faith works the miracle of mindfulness.

The child plays for the love of the game; the single blade of grass cannot control the growth of the field; we enjoy the first date by focusing on nothing else; my neighbor places the second puzzle piece on her table, not bothered that it is unconnected (at the moment) to the first.

Love every moment. That is life. Everything else derives from the nature of our love. In order for our seed to grow, we must allow for, and enable it to grow. The result is that everyone, all the birds of the air, feel our love and patience.

This parable reminds me of one of Daniel’s beautiful dreams.

“Thus were the visions of mine head in my bed; I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great. / The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth: / The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it.”-Daniel 4:10-12.

With forgiveness, we plant the seed in a field made barren by our shame and anger. This is the beginning, which is rebirth, seeing with new eyes.

“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”-Genesis 1:2.

Our forgiveness gives birth to our faith. With faith, our patience grows.

“In your patience possess ye your souls.”-Luke 21:19.

With patience comes the first dribble, the first blade of grass, the first smile, the first puzzle piece. And with the first step, darkness gives way to light.

“In him was life; and the life was the light of men.”-John 1:4.

When we work with the soil, and the seasons (instead of against nature), accepting the rain, preparing for the famine, the seed sprouts.

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”-James 2:26.

If we sit back and do nothing, our faith dies in its infancy. Only by forgiveness will our seed grow. This is our call to action, our side of the covenant.

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”–Revelation 3:20.

With our love, we open the door, keeping our side of the agreement. The rest is glorious, miraculous. Our eyes see the coming of the Lord. Our tree grows. When the birds see how our tree offers sweet life, instead of bitter hatred, they nest in our branches.

When the animals see shade beneath our tree, instead of more heat, more hate, they rest with us. They lower their defenses, and learn to forgive by our example.

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and [reverence].”-1 Peter 3:15.

Jesus is our shepherd. And as the sheep of his flock, we shepherd others. This is ministry. This is how we further our works, by showing others that they have the seed to plant their own tree. In this way, they create their covenant with God.

One seed grows more seeds. With each, the process renews itself; we are born again; they are reborn. With every revelation, a new genesis occurs. Another tree sprouts beside ours, and another, until the field no longer lies barren, but shines with the light of life.

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away….”-Revelation 21:1.

Our trees grow exponentially until all are of one root, one canopy. This is the great tree Daniel dreamed of, what Jesus promised. This is God’s part of our covenant.

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”-Revelation 21:4.

This is what born again means. And all it takes is one small seed.

Plant yours today. Forgive. Have faith. Spread the word through your actions. Keep your side of the bargain, and God will keep His.

Revealed Unto Babes

To be born again, we can choose from three primary paths. Each one corresponds to what comes more naturally to you.

The first path is to love your neighbor, treat your fellows the way you want to be treated. “The Good Samaritan” illustrates what loving your neighbor means.

A priest and a Levite pass by a stripped, beaten, half-dead man, not wanting to get involved; and a Samaritan (despised by the Jews of Jesus’ day) shows mercy and compassion.

“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? / And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”-Luke 10:36, 37.

The second is to forgive yourself, people who wronged you, everyone. “The Prodigal Son” shows us how forgiveness works. Like The Good Samaritan, this parable reveals how to follow Jesus’ lessons, while also giving us a counter example.

“And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. / It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.”-Luke 15:31, 32.

Regardless of the loyalty to his father, a responsible older son doesn’t forgive his wayward brother, who’s willing to humble himself, by admitting his mistakes.

Jesus included these opposite views for a reason.

“And he said unto [the Pharisees], Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”-Luke 16:15.

Love can’t exist without forgiveness; or forgiveness, without love. But if we forgive, then we have shown love; and if we love, then we can forgive.

So if you find it hard to love your enemies, then try forgiving them. Recall my forgiveness equation (Understanding + Acceptance = Forgiveness); understand the person who wronged you, even if you don’t agree with them: See their perspective, and accept it.

We have to put ourselves aside to do this, deny ourselves, humble ourselves to that which is beyond our control.

These two parables explain love and forgiveness. Now we come to the third path, humility.

Without humility, there is no love or forgiveness.

“…God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”-James 4:6.

When we remember that God is love, we see that love resists pride. To love one another, we must be humble; to forgive one another, we must be humble. However, there is nothing more difficult than to put others before ourselves. Considering others to be our equals is hard enough.

But stop and think. Do you sometimes, even often, put your spouse’s needs above your own, or your child’s, or your friend’s? We’re more humble than we think. What we do for the people who are most important to us, we can also do for everyone else. We behaved that way in childhood.

As children, everyone was our friend. To keep us safe, our parents taught us to not trust strangers. But now that we are older, and able to take care of ourselves, we must return to that trust, faith, and acceptance of strangers we had as children.

“And [Jesus] said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”-Matthew 18:3.

To become as little children, we must be born again; and to be born again, we must become as little children. Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus:

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”-John 3:3.

The two previous quotes from Matthew and John combine in this, the most important and revealing passage in the Gospels.

“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”-Matthew 18:4.

By humbling ourselves, we not only enter the kingdom of heaven, but we become the greatest therein. So this is it; the answer we’ve been looking for, the key to being born again: To be perfect, we must humble ourselves and have faith, like little children.

“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”-Matthew 11:25.

Jesus isn’t speaking against wisdom and prudence, rather, against people like the Pharisees, who believe they are wise, and despise others for not being as smart as they are.

People who are truly wise admit their ignorance, since that is how we learn. But if we believe that we know everything already, then we won’t bother to learn.

It is with all these things in mind, that Jesus tells a parable about humility.

“And [Jesus] spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. / Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.”-Luke 18:9, 10.

Hands up, how many of us have thought that other people are stupid? Even fools despise others for their stupidity. We all have gifts that we should treasure, instead of belittling people who don’t share our unique knowledge and experience.

Pharisees memorized what would, in modern print, be over 6,200 pages of Scribal Law. They were much smarter than the simple fishermen of Galilee. Instead of using their intelligence to help the less fortunate, they succumbed to pride.

But everyone saw the Pharisees as examples of devout faith.

The other player in this drama is a publican, or tax-collector. They were called “publicans” because they dealt with public money and public funds. Israelites hated them, because they worked for the Romans, during their occupation of Israel, and so were collaborators.

There weren’t any newspapers, television, or internet; no one really knew how much in taxes they ought to pay. And there were so many taxes!

People paid to travel on main roads, bridges, or to enter the market places, or towns, or harbors. They paid taxes on their pack animals, on the wheels and axles of their carts.

The publicans charged whatever they liked, and kept for themselves what the Romans didn’t collect.

So Pharisees were supposedly good, and publicans were ostensibly bad.

“…the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”-1 Samuel 16:7.

We think seeing is believing. But that is our pride showing. If we humble ourselves, and admit that we don’t know everything at first sight, that we’re unable to see or understand the past, present, and future of another person, then we would leave judgment to God.

However, perhaps to hide our ignorance and limitations, we act as if we’re such hot stuff, like the Pharisee in the temple.

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. / I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”-Luke 18:11, 12.

Here Jesus shows us the opposite of what we should be, what’s analogous to the priest and Levite in The Good Samaritan, and the older brother in The Prodigal Son.

Note how he “prayed with himself.” Sure, he addressed God, but he thought only of how awesome he was, not how awesome God is. He judged others, about whom he knew nothing.

We judge people based on what we see and know about them, both of which are limited. Our pride tempts us to believe that we know the big picture, that the unjust person has always been, and will always be, unjust.

“Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”-Proverbs 16:8.

The proud follow their own will, not God’s. By doing so, they put themselves above God.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”-Exodus 20:3.

The proud are their own god. This is why God resists them, and causes them to fall. But the humble admit their human weaknesses, and worship God not only out of love, but necessity.

“For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”-1 Corinthians 1:19.

The wise and prudent are tempted to also be prideful. When we know what some others do not, like the Pharisees, then it’s difficult to be humble. However, if we keep in mind that our greater knowledge is relative, then we realize that there are still others who know more than we do.

There’s always a larger, stronger, more intelligent, more talented person. And so our pride comes to nothing. Our own accumulated knowledge is paltry. To be truly wise, knowledge must be tempered with love and humility.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”-1 Peter 5:6.

God made everything, and exists as everything. Therefore, God is not only equal to the entire universe, but is greater even than that. Pride convinces us that we are greater than that which is greater than the universe.

I think Peter borrowed the previous quote from Jesus (who borrowed it from Proverbs 25:6, 7).

“But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shall thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.”-Luke 14:10.

Pride is a gamble. We hope to gain respect with our confidant growl. But when someone (or something) calls our bluff, then we’re back to being naked and ashamed.

“And [Adam] said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”-Genesis 3:10.

But now the other player knows we have a bad hand, that we’re scared, weak, and vulnerable. Best to not bluff, be honest, with love in your heart. Because, then, the respect is real, and we will have earned it.

Pride is pure delusion, and if we practice self-deception, then all we see and think will be wrong. We’ll imagine good to be evil; and evil, good.

“And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”-Luke 18:13.

You ever beat yourself up for doing something wrong and stupid? That’s what the publican did when he smote his chest, but literally.

The publican knew he was a collaborator, and had overcharged, and extorted money from his own conquered countrymen. He knew that everyone hated him, that he was counted among the lowest of the low.

“When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.”-Proverbs 11:2.

This is the heart of the matter.

We’ve already seen that to be prideful is to think of ourselves as greater than God. We’ve seen that pride is a lie, and our bluff can be called; and we know that when it’s called, we’re headed for destruction.

We are proud when we celebrate our own will.

“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”-John 6:38.

Humility is important because that’s how we follow God’s will. If we’re prideful, we won’t surrender. If we’re selfish, then we’re living a lie. Pride is like using the wrong set of directions, a map to New York when we want to go to California.

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”-Matthew 16:24.

The publican denied himself by admitting he’d done wrong, followed his own will, his own greed. The Pharisee denied God, by thinking himself better than others, and by listing the qualities that made him better than God. Remember, God is everything, everyone.

“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”-John 1:3.

Whatever we do to others, we do to God. Whatever we think of others, we think of God. And since you and I are a part of God, as we occupy this universe, then whatever we do to others, we also do to ourselves. We can beat ourselves up only for so long, until we’re weakened from the exertion, and bruised from the abuse.

The publican reached that stage, as he begged for mercy. We must reach that stage, to be born again, to see the truth that is revealed only to babes.

“If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; / And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”-John 8:31, 32.

Only everything knows everything.

That’s why we should follow God’s will, because we don’t know everything. But what is God’s will? We’ll discuss that in the next essay. But here’s the simple truth of it.

“All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.”-Matthew 11:27.

We learn God’s will by looking at Jesus, what he taught, how he acted. Jesus is our example.

“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. / For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”–John 13:14, 15.

Besides honoring God, and our place in the universe, the main reason for humility is that we honor each other. When the prideful put themselves above God, they also put themselves above their fellows. This is dangerous, as it leads to the devaluing of all life besides their own.

We not only need God, but also each other. Washing feet symbolizes our caring for each other, but especially for the sick, starving, homeless, and poor.

“I tell you, [the publican] went down to his house justified rather than the [Pharisee]: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”-Luke 18:14.

The publican saved his soul that day, as he got down on his knees, and begged for mercy. He recognized not only his faults, his sins, but also just how small he was, how weak, how low.

“Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off.”-Psalm 138:6.

We act proudly, because everyone else does. We fear that we won’t get a promotion, or charm a romantic interest, that others will see us as weak, and take advantage of us, rob us, even kill us.

These fears are not unfounded. That’s the sad truth. That’s why what we think is great is abomination in the sight of God.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”-Matthew 10:16.

Being a real Christian (following Jesus’ example) is hard. Make no mistake. If it was easy to love one another, everyone would do it. We all take the path of least resistance. We see the results of that choice all around us.

Jesus made no bones about it.

“…If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”-Matthew 16:24.

He said plainly that following God’s will, as far as the rest of the world was concerned, was like carrying a cross to our own crucifixion. But, and here’s where it all comes into balance, accepting our cross means the granting of inner peace, which we will never get from all the people we’re trying to impress with our pride.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”-John 16:33.

So choose your path; there are many, and we lose our way easily. Will you follow your own will, be your own guide, not knowing of what lies ahead?

That is the Pharisees’ way, where you ignore the anguish of your fellows, by walking on the other side of the road. You’ll feel hatred and jealousy, instead of joy.

“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.”-Matthew 7:13.

You won’t be alone. All the other selfish people will admire your choice to join them. They will also fight you, pit their will against yours. You will never know peace.

Or you can choose God as your guide. His will allows for three convenient entrances: love, forgiveness, or humility; any one of which accomplishes the other two.

That is the publican’s way, where you show mercy, and feel love for everyone, forgive everyone. You will know the truth, and see everything as it exists.

“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”-Matthew 7:14.

Upon this revelation, we will beg God for mercy, seeing how small and weak we are. But then God will guide us, through the wilderness, through temptation, into the Promised Land, where we will be born again.

The Sower

Test time! We’ll be grading on a 10-point scale: Anything below 70 = F. Ready?

To ease test anxiety, take a deep breath and visualize my favorite teaching moment from the gospels.

“The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. / And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.”—Matthew 13:1-2.

We don’t have to do anything for this test, except be honest with ourselves, and see how far along we are in trusting God’s will: how much patience we still need to learn.

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; / Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”—James 1:2-3.

Grade F: By the wayside

“…Behold, a sower went forth to sow; / And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up.”—Matthew 13:3-4.

Jesus later explained most of this to his apostles. Remember, he spoke to the crowds only by parables.

“All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them.”—Matthew 13:34.

But to his twelve apostles he spoke openly:

“When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.”—Matthew 13:19.

Before we can hope to fight temptation, we first have to understand how to fight it.

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.”—Luke 8:11.

Like God, the word of God is everything.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life: /…/ That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us….”—I John 1:1,3.

You could say that the word is God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”—John 1:1.

Before I can follow God’s will, I have to understand the word.

However, before I can get to that point, I have to understand who the sower is. We aren’t told—which seems odd, since it’s the title of the parable. As you read, keep this in mind, and decide for yourself the identity of the sower.

This first type of ground, the wayside, is for those who don’t understand the word of God. Think for a moment. Do you understand it? Do I? I’d like to think I do. But we’re human beings. That means we don’t know much, unless it can be proven with math and the scientific method.

“…Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do….”—Luke 23:34.

I think of that plea from the cross as the definition of humanity, which is (or should be) humility.

“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”—John 6:38.

Therefore I humble myself by acknowledging that I don’t understand everything taught in the Bible. Think about that. Who would dare claim such a thing? I try. Sometimes I think that I have flashes of insight. But it is never total. Should I expect it to be?

My grade: F!

“And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?”—Mark 4:13.

So this is really a learning exercise. If we can understand this parable, which is all laid out for us, then we can apply what we learned to the others.

The sower gave me the word of God. This is the first hint at the sower’s identity. Who gives us the word? How does it come to us?

When I don’t understand, it’s because my earth failed to absorb the seeds. I wasn’t doing anything with the seeds, so the birds came and ate them. When we leave our faith up for grabs, and don’t take responsibility, the potential we have for loving one another slips away.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. / By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”—John 13:34-35.

Did you fail too? Don’t give up. Understanding is all we lack. That can be overcome with patience.

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; / And patience, experience; and experience, hope.”—Romans 5:3-4.

Grade C: Rocky ground

“Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: / And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.”—Matthew 13:5-6.

We want the seed to reach good earth, but there’s always something in the way.

“But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; / Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.”—Matthew 13:20-21.

Notice that the sower is no longer mentioned, and won’t be for the rest of the parable. Yet, everything that happens is a result of his/her actions.

So far, this is my highest score. Sometimes I do understand. I get it, and I’m so happy. Though I have faith in the word, I struggle during tribulation because of a lack of faith in myself. Faith is the root; if it’s strong, then so am I. But sometimes I get caught off guard, overwhelmed.

“But when [Peter] saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.”—Matthew 14:30.

If you’ve made it this far, then you somewhat understand the word, but have trouble using it. The rocky ground is where we suffer temptation from within. Maybe we’ve built a stone wall, which keeps everything out, including the word. Or it could be that our hearts are cold, refusing personal investment and connection. Whatever the case, the lack of faith is due to fear. We think that we have to protect ourselves, look out for number one. But this shuts us off, not only from the damage of living, but the love of living.

Since we’ve made it to Grade C, it’s time to start using our understanding to fight temptation. The Bible is full of quotable mantras. This is my favorite one for dealing with fear:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”—Psalms 23:4.

Repeating this to yourself in times of need may not make you fearless. It won’t solve all your problems. But it is a good first step. We have to remind ourselves that we are not alone.

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”—Isaiah 43:2.

Rocky ground is the hardest level for me. I am my own worst critic. While the kingdom of heaven is within us, so are the worst angels of our nature.

My goal is to learn how to control my fear, by reminding myself that God is with me. Through patience and honesty with myself during prayer, and using the Bible’s mantras in mindfulness meditation, I have faith that my grade will improve.

Grade B: Thorny ground

“And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them.”—Matthew 13:7.

Whatever we put our faith into, that’s what gives us strength; whatever we put our time into defines who we are.

“He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.”—Matthew 13:22.

Sometimes we get our strength from the things of this world: (the good) family and friends, and (the bad) addiction and greed. While these can work, if my strength doesn’t come from God, but from the things of this world, then I’ll have to choke and smother myself with temporary fixes. All we need is one God, but we need countless cars, clothes, food, cigarettes, promotions, larger apartments, etc.

At this level, we would’ve learned to understand a majority of the word, and dealt with our inner demons, but we’re still a fat camel trying to squeeze through a needle’s eye. The good news is that we’re almost perfect, just one letter grade remains. The bad news is that one can’t find anything more contrary to the gospels than the temptations of the physical world.

“…for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”—Luke 16:15.

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul…?”—Matthew 16:26.

“…My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”—Matthew 21:13.

Is that what we are: a den of thieves? Are we the Pharisees, or the Romans who cast lots for Jesus’ torn garments?

At this level, the thorny ground, we must answer these questions. Basically, where do we put our faith? The needs of this world spring up like thorns: unpredictable, unstoppable, at least by conventional methods.

“And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.”—Mark 10:27.

We can’t fight sin without sinning ourselves; it infects everything it touches. That’s my problem. That’s why I’m here: to find a way to cleanse myself, and then share that knowledge.

“Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”—I Peter 4:19.

We suffer so that we can learn patience. We need that very kind of patience to follow God’s will. We have to follow God’s will, or the cares of this world will overcome us. It’s an impossible fight without the word of God: the seeds that bring fruit according to our actions, i.e., what type of ground we’re on.

That reminds me of how the sower’s actions are all we have to determine his/her identity. And it reminds me of Judgment Day, the ultimate test.

“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”—Matthew 16:27.

Grade A: Good earth

“But others fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.”—Matthew 13:8.

We are into science fiction territory here.

“But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”—Matthew 13:23.

Our sower never stopped to clear the thorns and stones. He/she didn’t even seem to be aiming. Everyone got treated the same, no matter what type of ground they were on. This is how the word comes to us. The question remains: who is the sower?

At this level we understand the word, and rejoice in temptation, since it tests our faith. We are pros at being tested, because we’ve faced all our demons, maintaining patience through every tribulation; and we were able to do all that because we put our faith in the will and word of God.

If I were to get an A, what would the prize be? What’s my goal in all of this? First, my goal is to be what I just described. But there must be something beyond that, on the other side of the door.

“Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”—Matthew 7:7.

Once we’ve understood the word, and faced our inner and outer demons, then we are able to bear the fruit of our seeds. This is unique to the good earth. Since the seeds are the word of God, what kind of fruit would that be? Think back to how you received the seeds, and the peace they brought to your life: comfort during tribulation, strength during temptation.

“Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.”—Matthew 10:8.

That’s what Jesus said to his apostles, before sending them to minister to the people. For the twelve, Jesus was the sower. He brought them the word. For those ministered to by the apostles, the twelve were the sowers. They sowed by their actions: cleansing, raising, casting out; we sow, or bear fruit, according to our actions. Therefore, we not only receive the seeds, but give them to others as well.

We are the sowers. It’s all entirely up to us. The kingdom of heaven is within us. We are the source of evil in this world.

“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.”—Matthew 15:11.

We have two potential roles in this parable: giving and receiving. Sometimes we are the sower; other times we’re on rocky or thorny ground; or we may just be by the wayside.

We are free at any point to shift to another level, seek better understanding, fight our demons, free to decide if we want to follow God’s will at all: Some people like a lost cause; I know I do.

“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”—Luke 19:10.

Amen to that.

The Unforgiving Servant

What is your greatest success? Be honest and think about this for a moment.

I once worked for a group of retirement homes in south Florida. One day a social worker called and told me about a quadruple amputee, an elderly woman with no family and very little money; the staff at that woman’s facility were so poorly paid, and thought so little of her for not paying them more, that they abused her, mocking her by dropping her in the shower. She had nowhere to go, not enough money, and only that social worker and me to do anything about it. I turned over my cases, and focused on hers.

Somehow, I found a home that would accept her, one that I’d visited and trusted. She was moved by the end of the day. I still weep for joy when I think of her, and how a simple person can do so small a thing as a day’s work, and yet make such a huge difference in someone else’s life.

What is your greatest failure? Be honest.

I have a hard time with intimacy—not just romantically, but being close with anyone. I tend to push others away. There are lots of reasons; I’ve always had reasons for why I behaved badly. But when I take away those excuses, and look at the bad thing I did, the sin I committed, it is still a sin.

By choosing one success and one failure, think of them as your summary, symbolic events that are prime examples of all your good and bad deeds.

“Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.”—Matthew 18:23.

In this parable, I see each of us as the king. The servants are our actions. Though it’s more common to take the king to be God, remember that God is everywhere, existing within the souls of all that He has made.

“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”—John 1:3.

“Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:21.

In this parable, we sit in judgment on ourselves.

“And when [the king] had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.”—Matthew 18:24.

Judgment day! Though I’d like to delay paying taxes, the time comes when they’re due. Likewise, I can deny my inner guilt for behaving badly, but only for a limited time. If I don’t forgive myself, and the person whom I felt did me wrong, then that guilt builds.

“Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.”—Revelation 16:15.

The more often we take inventory of our lives, through prayer and meditation, the more accurate we’ll be when we make the ultimate judgment: the one on ourselves.

“But forasmuch as he had not to pay, [the king] commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.”—Matthew 18:25.

I am my own worst critic. Sometimes I can be brutal. Since the servant couldn’t pay, the king’s initial response was to banish not only the servant, but his family too.

“And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.”—Genesis 6:7.

Repentance is necessary for forgiveness. When it comes to forgiving ourselves, we must be made vulnerable to our worst critic, hoping for mercy and compassion.

“The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. / Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.”—Matthew 18:26-27.

We are always at the mercy of ourselves. Like the Good Samaritan, and the father of the Prodigal Son, feeling compassion is our first step to showing mercy, which leads to forgiveness. But when we have to show mercy to ourselves, the struggle between good and evil becomes internal, where part of you will always lose. This complicates things.

“But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hand on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.”—Matthew 18:28.

Remember, in this meditation, we are the king. We sit in judgment on our actions, symbolized by the servant. When the servant was forgiven, he then committed a sin right away.

“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? / Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, until seventy times seven.”—Matthew 18:21-22.

Those verses precede this parable. To have a clean soul, and a healthy mind, we must not only forgive others, we must forgive ourselves, no matter how often it takes.

“And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. / And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.”—Matthew 18:29-30.

In these studies of morality, I thought I’d learned the lessons, only to fail again and again. It’s hard to forgive every sin. I can’t help but get impatient with myself. I beat myself up, and would throw myself into prison if I could.

“Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me; / Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?”—Matthew 18:32-33.

This was a soul that had just been forgiven. It had been shown mercy. How many more times should this soul be forgiven, since it can’t learn a simple lesson?

…until seventy times seven.

If you are good enough to be forgiven once, then that worth does not change. No matter what bad thing I’ve done, I did my part in making that woman’s life better in a new retirement home. Likewise, no matter what good thing I’ve done, a sin is still a sin. Neither is more important than the other; both count when it comes to Judgment Day.

“And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.”—Matthew 18:34.

If we don’t forgive ourselves, then we will be tormented. Whether or not there’s an actual lake of fire, our teeth will be gnashing from guilt. Repentance is how we pay for our sins.

“So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”—Matthew 18:35.

Every one: That’s a lot. Remember, this is what the kingdom of heaven is like. Heaven is forgiving every sin. Bring in your servants, take account of all you’ve done, through meditation and prayer, and then repent and forgive every single sin. And then you’ll know what the kingdom of heaven is like.

I think forgiving ourselves is just as important as forgiving each other. As a thought exercise, we could replace all of the Bible’s lessons about forgiving others, with forgiving ourselves. I bet it would hold up.

Repentance requires the truth. Be honest with yourself.

“…for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”—Matthew 6:8.

And you know what is in your heart, the good and the bad; respect them both, and learn from them. By practicing this type of meditation, maybe we won’t be too hasty on Judgment Day, our own personal apocalypse; maybe we won’t judge ourselves or others too harshly.

We must have faith in ourselves, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for ourselves.

“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”—Matthew 6:12.

This is the kingdom of God that is within us all. The state of heaven is forgiveness.

Good Samaritan

“And [the Prodigal Son] arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.”—Luke 15:20.

Without the father’s compassion, that story would’ve had a very different ending—if he’d felt as the elder son did, for example, who was angry and held a grudge against his brother.

Compassion and mercy lead a dual existence for me, just like forgiveness. On the one hand, they should be automatic, involuntary. We all make mistakes because we know not what we do. But we also know exactly what we’re doing when we sin. We just can’t help it.

If it makes it any easier, think of us as children who never grow up.

While compassion and mercy should be automatic, we make the choice.

“But [the lawyer] willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor? / And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.”—Luke 10:29-30.

People were always trying to cause trouble at Jesus’ get-togethers. This time it was a lawyer. He wasn’t trying to make Jesus look bad, exactly; rather, he attempted to make himself look good by fencing words with his host.

Like all the rest, this aspect of Jesus’ story was a parable, itself; it showed us how to deal with those people who try to trip you, or use you to further their own ends. The solution: be gracious, turn the other cheek, and confuse (but enlighten) them with a story.

With all the talk of love thy neighbor as thyself, the lawyer wanted a definition for “neighbor.” The story began with a Jewish man making a long, dangerous trip—like walking through a war zone, but the soldiers were bandits.

“And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.”—Luke 10:31.

The priest didn’t want to get involved. I can’t say that I blame him. When you help someone else, you make yourself vulnerable, because you’re (essentially) giving them some of your energy. The priest would’ve been literally vulnerable, as the bandits could be watching; or maybe the man wasn’t really hurt, just faking it, and his partner was waiting behind a rock.

“And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.”—Luke 10:32.

While we all know what a priest is, the term Levite deserves an explanation.

“And thy brethren also of the tribe of Levi, the tribe of thy father, bring thou with thee, that they may be joined unto thee, and minister unto thee.… / And they shall keep thy charge, and the charge of all the tabernacle….”—Numbers 18:2-3.

Bottom line: the Levites were a tribe of Israel. They were in charge of the places of worship, where the priests gave their sermons. These were holy men, allies of the mugged traveler. They practiced mercy and compassion every day. They might’ve felt compassion for the injured man, but they chose to not show mercy.

I sometimes wonder if the Pharisees got a “bum rap.” After everything the Israelites went through during the Old Testament, they finally stopped questioning God, and obeyed His laws to the letter. I can’t fault them for remaining true to their beliefs, when Jesus came along with his new teachings.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”—Matthew 23:23.

Like the Rich Young Lord, and the lawyer, priest, and Levite from this story, the Pharisees were insincere; they obeyed the letter of the law, but not the spirit. They must’ve been really jealous too. They gave their lives to God, and then some hippy punk strolled into town, claiming to be the Messiah.

“And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. / And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”—Luke 16:14-15.

The priest and the Levite followed all of God’s laws, but they were unwilling to make themselves vulnerable, to give all they had to the poor, those in need of mercy—where “all they had” was, in this case, risking their lives.

“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, / And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.”—Luke 10:33-34.

The same possible, hidden bandits were in the Samaritan’s mind too, I’d wager. He had to choose, just like the priest and Levite. Further, Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along. Of their relationship, the Bible said this:

“…Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.”—John 4:9.

If we’re unwilling to make the choice, if we decide to remain neutral and not get involved, the outcome still occurs. Had it not been for the Samaritan, the traveler would’ve died; and the priest and Levite would be responsible.

We can’t be responsible for the whole world. But we are responsible for what lies in the realm of our experience. Though we think of helping others as making ourselves vulnerable, remember that mercy has a dual existence:

“The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.”—Proverbs 11:17.

Helping others is the best way to help yourself. You’ll feel great! Life will be so much more beautiful when you’ve helped someone who couldn’t help themselves.

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”—I Corinthians 10:13.

We are all potential shepherds, angels to those in need. We are each other’s Plan B, last hope, and hidden Ace. While seemingly complicated, the choice is simple: look after yourself, don’t get involved, and you’ll never feel connected; or be a Good Samaritan—Let go of petty differences, take responsibility for the moment you are in, and not only save someone else, but yourself too.

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”—Titus 3:5.

Mercy saves us, if we choose to allow it.

“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? / And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”—Luke 10:36-37.

Prodigal Son

When we say love, what do we mean? I’ve been told that there are different kinds of love, different shades, manifestations, or expressions of love: romantic, platonic, familial. I love this color, that book, this song, and I love God. And God loves me.

If God is love, then love, itself, must be infinite, while also being singular. A paradox!

“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”—John 1:3.

All things were made by love, for love. So why do we have such a hard time loving each other? What am I doing wrong? If love is infinite, then how can we mortals comprehend it, let alone express it? In times of confusion, I return to the well, to the simplicity of storytelling.

You’re with all your friends, each a singular expression of your love for life. Since we leave judgment of good and evil to God, you have all kinds of friends. You sit and laugh with them on the beach, as the Sea of Galilee pulses with fish and fisherman. A couple of Pharisees show up, causing trouble:

“Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. / And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”—Luke 15:1-2.

Who are these people to tell you who to love? Why can’t they see and understand the connection you feel? Is love relative (i.e., not an absolute)?

Father forgive them; for they know not what they do.

Remember, we are ignorant, weak sinners. It’s okay to have trouble comprehending infinity. To explain to the Pharisees why he loves sinners, Jesus shares three parables.

1. Parable of the Lost Sheep

“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? / And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. / And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. / I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”—Luke 15:4-7.

I added the bold so you could keep that phrase in mind when reading the second parable.

2. Parable of the Lost Piece of Silver

“Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? / And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. / Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”—Luke 15:8-10.

See the pattern? Let’s break it down. There are three things being illustrated here: love, forgiveness, and repentance. None of these can exist without the others.

We cannot forgive without showing compassion, and without the repentance of the person who did us wrong.

We cannot repent without feeling love, and the possibility of forgiveness, if not by others, then forgiveness of ourselves after admitting that we were wrong.

And we cannot love unless we’re willing to accept repentance, forgive the sinner, and love the sinner.

All things were made by him: including sin and the sinner. There is nothing that is unnatural or unclean. It is all of God.

“And [Peter] said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”—Acts 10:28.

It is not for us to judge; that’s God’s job. Our job is to love each other, because we are all of God, even when we choose to leave him, abandoning love for our own selfish entitlement.

3. Parable of the Lost Son

“And he said, A certain man had two sons: / And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto his living. / And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.”—Luke 15:11-13.

There are three characters here: the father, younger son, and elder son. The father begins this parable by showing patience—which you need when the other person does you wrong as a result of their own selfishness. The younger son wasn’t trying to hurt the father; he was only thinking of himself. This isn’t always a bad thing.

Loving yourself is part of love. But sometimes we do this at other’s expense. Love is still there. God hasn’t abandoned you. Part of being connected to others is allowing the connection to grow. And sometimes growth is catastrophic.

“And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. / And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. / And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat; and no man gave unto him.”—Luke 15:14-16.

We cannot love only ourselves. Remember, God is love. God is everything. By loving only himself, the younger son left his father, abandoning the balance of love between himself and his family. When out of balance, that is, not shared equally with everyone you know (including yourself), love turns toxic.

The only way for the younger son to save himself is to repent.

“And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! / I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, / And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.”—Luke 15:17-19.

I am no more worthy.

That’s the key. If God is love, how can we approach love, except with humility?

“For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”—Luke 14:11.

Without repentance, there can be no forgiveness. If I can’t accept that I have done wrong, then how can I hope to fix what is causing my unhappiness?

I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.

The young son admits that he didn’t show love for his father. His thoughts were only for himself. He corrects this imbalance, which is ruining his life, with repentance. It’s okay to admit we were wrong. Since we don’t know what we’re doing, it’s a miracle we ever do anything right. While that won’t hold up in a court of law, it’s the truth. And truth is part of love, but so is compassion.

“And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. / And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”—Luke 15:20-21.

Without the father’s compassion, this scene would’ve gone very differently. The father showed patience when his son sinned and compassion when his son admitted that he had done wrong.

In the heat of the moment, no matter what our personal convictions are, we are liable to say and do anything. The only way to prepare for that involuntary reaction to a perceived threat is to practice love and forgiveness at all times. Make it your first priority, your first thought. But don’t be too hard on yourself when you fail. That’s why we’re practicing, because our ability to love needs work and focus.

“But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; / And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry; / For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.”—Luke 15:22-24.

I have found my sheep which was lost.

I have found the piece [of silver] which I had lost.

Without love we become lost; more than that, we die. The younger son couldn’t survive on his own, that is, without love, without repenting to his father, and forgiving himself. Self-interest is at work here, for both father and son. The father lost his son, who was precious to him. The son was starving to death. Love is in our best interest. If you want to look out for yourself, always look out for others.

I know…I know…paradox!

“Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. / And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. / And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.”—Luke 15:25-27.

Finally, the elder son gets some story time. Hopefully you didn’t forget about him, because he is crucial to the moral. In the heat of the moment, despite being a good, loyal son, how does he react?

“And he was angry, and would not go in; therefore came his father out, and entreated him. / And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends; / But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.”—Luke 15:28-30.

Though the elder son loves his father, he has no patience or compassion for his brother.

If we take the father to be God, the younger son represents us, as we wander to and away from love. If you remember that Jesus is telling this story to the Pharisees, I can’t help but think that the elder brother represents them. And, looking at the story of Jesus as a parable, the Pharisees symbolize our tendency to be unyielding, to cling to old understandings, without new wisdom. (Remember the Parable of the New Cloth from Matthew 9:16.)

Love comes through the understanding that we are weak. We need each other. Humility leads to wisdom, illustrated by the father’s patience and compassion toward a child who repented.

“And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. / It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.”—Luke 15:31-32.

Love is the merging of self-interest and altruism; it’s expressed through patience, compassion, repentance, and forgiveness. It is the humility of admitting your limitations, and the strength of the hope that we can go home again.

Patching an Old Coat

In his first parable, Jesus was asked by the Pharisees why he and his disciples didn’t fast. Why didn’t they follow the old ways, like the Pharisees?

Stepping back for a moment, thinking of Jesus’ story as a larger parable itself, the Pharisees represented our pride, ego, and overconfidence. They saw their beliefs as knowledge, unquestionable, unadulterated, absolute truth. With them in opposition to Jesus, who was the obvious protagonist, these accepted scholars and leaders of men were a warning to the ages, which Jesus stated repeatedly: “…for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”—Luke 18:14.

The Pharisees were the original passive aggressive types. Jesus was a threat to their order, their roles as important men. No one wants to be made to look like a fool.

The ultimate hero archetype, Jesus was too cool-headed to trip over his words. How he reacted to the Pharisees was a lesson too, echoed here: “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”—Matthew 5:39.

Don’t answer hate with hate. You can’t win that fight.

Instead of answering their specific question about why he and his disciples didn’t follow the laws of Moses by fasting, Jesus told his first parable.

“No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.”—Matthew 9:16.

Before they could protest or ask for clarification, the Pharisees were hit with the second part of the parable:

“Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.”—Matthew 9:17.

There are some indisputable truths. We all like to think we have a monopoly on these, and that everyone else is stupid. But our “truths” are often little more than beliefs, because we just don’t know that much. We can’t let on that we’re ignorant, though. People admire confidence. Who can blame them? If someone knows the way out of this darkness, then who wouldn’t want to follow them? While we may be confident about our abilities in certain, limited fields, none of us knows everything.

Jesus used two simple, indisputable truths to illustrate his point to the Pharisees. New cloth shrinks. If you use it to patch already shrunken garment, then both the cloth and the garment will be lost, wasted. As wine ferments in wineskins, the skins stretch and then harden. If you pour new wine into the already hardened wineskin, then the skin will burst as the fermentation causes it to expand.

Before the Pharisees could say anything else, and I imagine they were quite tongue tied, a man approached, asking Jesus to accompany him, and bring his dead daughter back to life. So the crowd followed, and the Pharisees were left to ponder the meaning of the parable. They couldn’t argue with the facts. New cloth shrinks. Wine ferments and causes wineskins to harden, which will then rupture if any more is poured into them. They came expecting a debate, but he didn’t answer them in the way they were prepared for.

Jesus offered what is still, today, a radical idea. Let us not put our rules, rituals, and busywork before love. But some people need to be busy. They depend on the concrete quality of rules to provide solid ground where what would, otherwise, be quicksand. That’s all fine, except these ideas that we just made up, because we’re bored and need structure, distract us from loving one another.

The rules become more important than the people.

This radical idea is the “new” component in the parable. It is the patch and the new wine. The garment and the wineskin are both vessels. They symbolize our old ways.

You can’t shove the new and old together, and expect them to play well.

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. / For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”—Matthew 10:34-35.

Balance that with this:

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”—Matthew 5:17.

Jesus didn’t want to destroy what we have. But we need to change, otherwise we cling to what, long ago, might have seemed like a good idea, but it just doesn’t work anymore. We have to change, be made new so that we can receive the new message, so that we can put love above our worldly rules, so that we can be happy, and fulfilled.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. / This is the first and greatest commandment. / And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. / On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”—Matthew 22:37-40.

For the purpose of this (and future) essays, I use this definition of God:

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. / He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—I John 4:7-8.

I added the bold to illustrate the definition. Thinking of an infinite being, considering what they want of us, can be very confusing. By the time we work through, come to despise, or given up on comprehending infinity, we have lost the original intention of the gospels. I don’t mean to say there isn’t a God, or that there is, and He is really a She, or who knows what all. Believe what you will. But, to simplify my meditation on Jesus’ parables, I will assume God = Love to be an axiom.

Looking at the above quote from Matthew 22:37 again, the greatest commandment is that we love…period. Not only that, but that we should grow to love loving. Want to know why we’re here, what our purpose is? That’s it. Everything else comes after it.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”—Exodus 20:3.

Put nothing before love. That was Jesus’ radical idea. All of his parables were lessons, ways to meditate by means of storytelling, passed down to us so that we not hold onto our old, comfortable ways. Each parable is another step, another personal apocalypse. Will we follow the Pharisees’ example, or Jesus’? It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure story. Which path are you on? Which path will you take?

The first step is the hardest: no momentum yet. You have to be new to embrace what’s new. But you can’t be new until you’ve embraced it. A paradox!

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”—Luke 23:34.

Jesus said we’re pretty ignorant. So I think it’s okay that we don’t know everything. We don’t have to get it right on the first try, or ever, even. The point is that we try; we make the effort. We’ll mess up almost always. But sometimes we get it right. And when you get love right, everyone wins.