Tag Archive: parable


Kingdom of Heaven: Talent

Within the framework of our own unique, personal covenant, God gives each of us talent, and work to use our gifts. Some people have really big jobs, lifelong commitments, that only end with their death: Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., for example.

Some have medium-sized jobs, like three years in the peace corps. But most of us don’t have the opportunity or ability to be the Pope. Instead we have the smallest, simplest tasks of all, like a smile to brighten someone’s day.

The people with big and medium-sized jobs know they have a responsibility. A teacher is a teacher every day. And, if we aren’t mindful, those of us with small jobs might decide to not even bother. Who cares if we don’t smile?

“And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing….”-John 6:39.

In order for Jesus to not lose any one of us, he needs all of us to help. In every interaction, we reinforce hope or despair. Big, medium, or small: All jobs, like all people, are equal in God’s eyes. When we are born again, we recognize the possibilities and responsibilities of the so-called small jobs.

“For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.”-Matthew 25:14.

Everyone serves God’s will, from Nebuchadnezzar (who enslaved the Jews) to Cyrus (who freed them). Simply stated, God’s will is whatever happens. Whatever we accomplish, whether we see it as good or bad, big or small, we serve each other.

“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.”-John 13:14.

We are all shepherds and sheep, the Lord’s servants and goods. Don’t misunderstand the labeling here. We tend to think of big as not being small; good is opposite evil. But God is Alpha and Omega. And so are we.

“But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.”-Mark 10:31.

We are all greater heroes, and cowards, than anyone can possibly imagine…let alone witness. The first equals the last. We are all God’s will, and we serve all that is, was, and will be.

We do this according to how we treat each other. Whether or not we use our talent in our work remains up to us. The Lord steps back (metaphorically) going “into a far country,” and allows us to handle each other in whatever ways we choose.

“And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.”-Matthew 25:15.

God never gives us more than we can handle. He pushes us to our limits, to show us what we can do, even when we think we can’t, and to show us our hearts. It’s no easy thing, to finish Jesus’ mission, to continue in the spirit of Moses, when we have but one talent to bring hope to billions.

“…for the LORD your God proveth [tests] you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”-Deuteronomy 13:3.

God knows our hearts, and tests us so that we know our hearts.

We can’t directly save billions, with our one little gift. Instead, we work with one smile at a time, a supportive gesture, giving love to the loveless, and hope to the hopeless.

Have faith in this good seed.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”-Proverbs 3:5.

We can’t even save one life. But that soul we touch, and aid in the reinforcing of hope, touches others; and those lives, others. Faith and despair grow by degrees, one at a time. Before we know it, the world is full of fear or faith. Everyone counts; everything we do adds up, always moving forward in whatever direction we nudge it.

All this begins when we are born again, realizing our small, but absolutely necessary place in the universe. Remember, God wants to give us the kingdom of heaven.

“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”-Luke 12:32.

He already has: Heaven is within us, each of us, all of us; it’s all around us. We just need new eyes, and new ears. The first step comes when we accept our talent and limitations.

“Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.”-Matthew 25:16.

A talent was not a coin, but a weight. It’s value depended on whether it was made of copper, silver, or gold. Silver was the most commonly used, and was worth approximately $600,000 (in our modern economy). It weighed from 75-130 pounds (34-58.9 kilograms).

So the first servant (as we’d see it today) had (5 x 600,000) 3 million dollars to trade with. His lord trusted him with that much of his money. The servant proved worthy of his master’s faith, doubling what he entrusted to him.

“And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.”-Matthew 25:17.

Interestingly enough, our current usage of the word “talent” comes from this parable: meaning gift or skill. When we have money, it’s easy to make more. We still have to work for it, but we have something obvious and tangible to trade with others.

Whether it’s art, science, sports, or a heartfelt smile, if we exercise our talent, our ability grows. The more we use it, the more we can do with it. Practice makes perfect.

If we don’t use our talents, we lose them.

“…every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”–Matthew 3:10.

We keep what we use. If we stop forgiving, soon we’ll forget how to do it. Same goes for everything. We teach ourselves, commit ourselves to whatever we do regularly. This is one of the best reasons for mindfulness: the absence of which is mindlessness.

These first two servants increased their talents, doubled them, by using them. The wording fascinates me too. They “received” these talents from their lord; they “traded” them with other people; and, by trading them, “gained” as much as they shared.

“…freely ye have received, freely give.”-Matthew 10:8.

We reason, incorrectly, that if we give something to someone, even our love, compassion, and forgiveness, then we lose what we give away. But God gave these to us. We received them freely. Instead of hoarding our gifts, if we pass them on to others, who need them, the Lord blesses us for blessing others. Then we gain double, and lose nothing.

“But he that had received one [talent] went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.”-Matthew 25:18.

I interpret this servant as the parable’s main character. He is the “everyman”: an ordinary individual with whom the reader identifies. There’s only one Moses or Jesus. Most of us are on the sidelines, watching the game. We can’t tackle, pass, or run; we’re too clumsy to dribble; we couldn’t hit water if we fell out of a boat: mostly because we’re lazy and scared; we feel weak and unimportant.

We have one talent (which is still worth over half-a-million dollars), but we feel impotent and jealous, when comparing ourselves to the servant who has 3 million.

“And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?”-Exodus 3:11.

Not everyone can be the drum major, the General, the Messiah. Not everyone can fight in armies, or serve as apostles. Some stay behind, by necessity or choice or fear. Maybe we have tried to do good, lending a hand here and there, but got stomped on, heedless of Jesus’ warning:

“…behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.”-Luke 10:3.

With our love defeated, and fear triumphant, we became the lost sheep: the very ones Jesus came to save. That’s why this servant is our main character. That’s why Jesus loves us, and died for us.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”-John 3:16.

Don’t give up. It’s not too late. God needs and loves you, and wants you to be in the kingdom. You are a unique part of the universe. Only you can accomplish what your special talent inspires.

But the clock ticks ever onward.

“After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoned with them.”-Matthew 25:19.

Remember, before going “into a far country,” their lord “delivered unto them his goods.” He made no mention of what the servants should do with what he gave them. He left his wealth in their hands. But he gifted each “according to his several ability.”

So their lord gave them talent based on what they could do with it.

Jesus told us to watch and be ready; but how can we, when we don’t know what to prepare for, or how to make ourselves ready?

Ah, but see, if we prepare for what we know will come, then we’ve prepared, as much as possible, for what we don’t know will come. Right now, no matter what happens, we need to learn and work on love: compassion, mercy, forgiveness, tolerance, and thankfulness. These things help us right now, and prepare us for whatever comes.

“And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.”-Matthew 25:20.

This servant received love, shared it with others, and earned love in return. If we feel and share love, then we have spread the Word, not by insistent conversion, but by our works, and our example.

“His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”-Matthew 25:21.

This servant was good and faithful because he accepted the unspoken responsibility that came with his lord’s gift, which he loaned or entrusted to the servant for safe keeping. Our talent no more belongs to us than the air, or the planets.

The servant was faithful because he knew the talent belonged to his lord, from whom he received it. And he was good because he received love, shared it, and returned it to the source. When we are good and faithful, we are ready to be born again.

“He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. / His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”-Matthew 25:22, 23.

You know that wonderful feeling when you’ve done something good? That is the joy of the Lord. Imagine a whole life, or just weeks or years of having those feelings stored, ready for perusal and judgment of yourself. We don’t need a literal catastrophe, or the seven vials filled with the seven final plagues. All we need is one night, lying awake in bed, regretting what we’ve done.

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

Whatever sin means in the heavenly sense, the earthly definition reveals cruelty to others that ricochets back on the sinner. This wakes us in the middle of the night, judges and condemns us when our own personal Judgment Day, our guilt, turns the moon into blood.

So it goes, when we refuse to give to others what God gave to us.

“Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed.”-Matthew 25:24.

What can we say, on Judgment Day, when we failed and know it? The servant tried to deflect the blame onto his lord, insulting his employer. Had the servant claimed ignorance (at least), or repented (at most), he might have escaped his lord’s wrath.

The servants received no instructions on what to do with these talents. Since this last servant didn’t know how to use his gift, and if he was willing to try again, and do it right, maybe…just maybe….

“And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands….”-Revelation 9:20.

But he was too prideful, trying to stand tall in the midst of the storm. Why can’t we admit when we’re wrong? It’s natural to make mistakes, if we don’t know the rules. But we act like we’re always right.

It’s not my fault; it’s yours!

“And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.”-Matthew 25:25.

Here we see the true root of pride: fear. The strong know how weak they are; the courageous know their fear. But we who fake strength and courage, so others (who also fake these noble traits) accept us as one of their own, do so out of fear.

We hide our glorious gift, bury it, as if it were dead and did not exist. People suffer when we don’t give them our love and compassion; we suffer by not sharing it. No one gains anything, when we bury our heads and hearts.

When we ignore a part of the body, the whole body suffers. We are all a part of the body of the universe.

God knows who we are, and whether or not we’re ready to be born again. Judgment Day does not condemn us, but rather tests us, so we learn what we lack.

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”-John 3:17.

We cannot learn unless we’re ready. God tests us so that we know ourselves: how small and large, insignificant and important we are.

Jonah tried to run, because he wasn’t ready to use his talent to help others. But the storms came, and the sea raged; the sailors cast him off the ship, and he lived in the belly of the great fish, until he accepted who he was, and what he needed to do.

“The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. // When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.”-Jonah 2:5, 7.

I think we must enjoy getting lost, so that we feel the rapture of being found. That’s why the Lord is my shepherd: I am the most wayward of sheep. Like our “everyman” servant, and Jonah, I run, sometimes stopping for a moment, to do something helpful and loving, then go right back to running. More great fish have swallowed and vomited me out, than I can count.

Sometimes, when I want to help others, the task and responsibility overwhelms me. The adversary inside my heart tells me, You’re weak and stupid, and can do no good, only harm; walk away. Sometimes I stand firm; other times, I agree with this judgment of my worth.

That’s when the Lord smites me, like a dog owner, who lightly smacks their beloved pet on the nose for making a mess on the carpet.

“His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed.”-Matthew 25:26.

In this parable, Jesus not only defines what is good, and what is wicked, but shows us our relationship with God, and the Lord’s almighty will.

We are good when we receive God’s gift, and acknowledge it by sharing it with others, especially those who need love. We are wicked when we are too lazy, prideful, and scared: when we surrender to the adversary within, our own personal Satan.

“Remove far from me falsehood and lies; Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with mine allotted bread.”-Proverbs 30:8.

(Slight departure from the norm: I took that quote from the Jewish Holy Scriptures, because I liked the wording.)

We each have our allotted bread, our specific talent, which is a part of our unique covenant. You have what God gave you, and I have something different. Separately, we’re incomplete, wicked; together, we complete God’s will, which is good.

The servant’s insult (“…I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed.”) was not a lie! His lord verified it. If God neither sows, nor straws, who does?

We do. God reaps and gathers what we sow and straw.

Jesus never left Palestine, but told his disciples that his gospel will be taught in the entire world. How? Through us and our works: He gave us the gospel, and left it up to us, as to what we’d do with it. God gave Moses the Law, and Moses passed it on to the Israelites, who gave it to us.

What will we do with this good news? What will you do with it?

“Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money [talent] to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.”-Matthew 25:27.

In Jesus’ time, usury was lending money with high rates of interest, an illegal activity in Israel, but practiced, nevertheless. In this second verse, from the lord to his wicked and slothful servant, I’m reminded of the money changers in the temple.

Everyone had to exchange Roman currency, or any other foreign coins, for local coinage, in order to donate it to the temple. The money changers charged exorbitant fees, knowing the pilgrims couldn’t exchange their money anywhere else. Jesus called them “a den of thieves.”

But at least, with this illegal activity, the lazy servant could have traded his lord’s gift with others. Anything is preferable to nothing: love or hate, but don’t ignore; do or don’t do. Decide, commit to one way or the other.

“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”-Revelation 3:16.

We must accept who we are, to grow. Don’t second-guess; have faith in the good seed.

“…No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”-Luke 9:62.

Even when someone isn’t ready to be born again, we still need to plant the seed. If we don’t sow, what does God have to reap? They might not accept your love and compassion, but reject you, perhaps vehemently so.

“They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.”-John 16:2.

A person doesn’t know love, unless we share it with them. If we share nothing, but ignore their pain (for fear of them causing us pain), then, in the absence of love, they know only hate…and so do we.

We don’t need to actively hate, just not actively love, for hate to result. Without the seed, the field lies barren. This is the difference between faith and fear, just and unjust, good and wicked.

“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.”-Luke 16:10.

The servants who used their talents for love were faithful with their work. God rewards a job well done with more glorious work to do.

If we are without faith, then we are fearful; and when we are fearful, we don’t love, only hate. And if we don’t share love, then we reject God’s gift: our talent. And we show ourselves that we aren’t ready for more difficult work, which comes with being born again.

“Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.”-Matthew 25:28.

If we don’t use our talents, we lose our abilities. No one exists as an island. Run and hide all you want, but someday, you will need someone’s love and compassion. We need each other from birth until death. Our singular talent is insufficient, without sharing it with others.

When we do share love, that is, our interpretation of it, from our personal covenant, and according to our “several ability”: We save everyone, especially ourselves. The only true selfishness is altruism.

Booker T. Washington wrote, “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”

“For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”-Matthew 25:29.

As an isolated quote, I know that might sound unfair, especially if we’re the one from whom the Lord takes away something.

But look at it this way:

“For unto every one that hath [love and talent] shall be given [or feel greater love and talent], and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not [or doesn’t share love] shall be taken away even that which he hath.”

We know what we did or didn’t do; what we felt, and didn’t express; what God gave us, which we refused to share. So is God unfair, or are we?

“Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?”-Ezekiel 18:25.

God can take away, as well as give. Our talent is our compassion, specifically, the ways in which we feel and share it. When I care for others, especially the loveless and hopeless, I accept myself; when I don’t care, I judge and reject myself.

We can blame this on God. Since the Lord is everything, we’d be somewhat correct in doing so. But God doesn’t straw or sow, we do. The fault is ours; the judgment, on us.

“And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”-Matthew 25:30.

Like Simon-Peter, we are all “fishers of men.” Peter was that way because Jesus was that way, and still is.

“…Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”-Mark 1:17.

We throw back the little fish, so they’ll finish growing: That’s what Judgment Day is. Growth hurts. (Ask a teething child.) The revelation of what we haven’t done, in comparison to what we accomplished, can be very painful. It reveals to us what good we’ve done, for ourselves and others, and makes us condemn ourselves for what we haven’t done.

Without God, that is, without love, we weep in darkness. We gnash our teeth in the overwhelming anxiety of finishing Jesus’ work. We’re not alone though: Moses believed he couldn’t save Israel; Jonah believed he couldn’t save Nineveh; and Peter thought he was too sinful to spread the Word and love of God.

“When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”-Luke 5:8.

When the Egyptians pursued the Israelites, trapping them against the Red Sea, God told Moses what Moses then shared with the weeping, former slaves, what still holds true for all of us today.

“The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.”-Exodus 14:14.

Reinforcing hope and faith seems impossible to us little people, who hover on the edge of outer darkness, on the sidelines. But nothing is impossible to God. When we spread the Word by our example, and love one another, we are not alone.

“…I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”-Matthew 28:20.

Jesus is with us, so is Moses, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Booker T. Washington, and everyone everywhere who has ever loved the loveless, and given hope to the hopeless. In love, we are all one body, one universe.

And when we fail, and fall into darkness, do not surrender to your inner adversary. Someone will come along, and offer you support. God will not forsake you.

“…As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. / …be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest.”-Joshua 1:5, 9.

The “outer darkness” is not the end, only the beginning. Even if we surrender to this inner hell, when the great fish swallows us, like Jonah, all we have to do is repent: Accept God’s love; it’s everywhere.

See with new eyes, and hear with new ears. I’ve learned that what I believed were curses, in my life, were great blessings: miracles. God saves us from ourselves, and, through us, saves everyone. Jesus promised to not lose one of us. We will all pass over into the Promised Land, even if we wander through the wilderness for 40 years.

We will find the kingdom of heaven, because it’s inside of us, all around us, in each other, in everything. We can’t miss it!

“Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.”-Luke 12:40.

Stay mindful. The opportunities to use our talent happen suddenly. Like making a left turn in heavy traffic, if we don’t use the precious few seconds, in which we notice someone in pain, then we lose the chance to share love, and stay stalled at the stoplight.

I can’t tell you what your talent is, or how to use it; your talent comes from your personal covenant with God, and all of life. Pray and meditate, commune and hold fellowship with all things. If you open your heart and mind, then God reveals your heart and mind, through the Word and love of Jesus.

The Lord bless and keep you.

Amen.

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God is everything, everyone, everywhere. So, whatever we do, we are a part of the kingdom of heaven, and not apart from it.

Nebuchadnezzar enslaved the Jews, taking them into captivity for 70 years. Still, he was God’s servant.

“And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant….”-Jeremiah 27:6.

King Cyrus, who freed the Jews from Babylonian captivity, was not just God’s servant, but his anointed king: the Greek word for which is “Christ.”

“Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden….”-Isaiah 45:1.

Jacob was God’s servant (Ez. 37:25), as well as Moses (Joshua 1:2), and David (2 Sam. 7:8). We all work for God. In the kingdom, no work or person ranks higher than any other. What we call good or evil, meaningful or meaningless, doesn’t matter, except to us and our need to judge.

God loves all of us, and needs everyone and everything.

Jesus emphasized this point with a parable about a vineyard. Unlike my other interpretations, this time I want to start with the moral, the conclusion, and then work our way from the beginning.

“So the last shall be first, and first last: for many be called, but few chosen.”-Matthew 20:16.

Jesus loves riddles. He wants us to pray and meditate on his wordplay. How can the last be first? What’s the difference between being called and chosen? Our answers determine our unique, personal covenant with God. There is no wrong answer. There are as many answers as there are people.

“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.”-2 Peter 1:20.

My interpretation requires the insertion of a few key words: “So the last shall be [equal to the] first, and first [equal to the] last: for many be called [to follow God’s will], but few [have] chosen [to follow it mindfully].”

Do we know, and accept, that whether or not we choose to follow God’s will, we already do?

Now we can backtrack, develop our understanding of equality, and dismiss our judgmental ideas of separating Alpha and Omega.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.”-Matthew 20:1.

The Bible writers left out one important detail, assuming, no doubt, that their readers recognized the time of year when extra workers were needed: the harvest. The rainy season followed the harvest. If extra laborers weren’t hired, the rain ruined the crop.

Last time, in the parable of the Wheat and Tares, we learned that the harvest symbolized Judgment Day, the humbling Day of the Lord, preceding rebirth, which is the kingdom of heaven.

“…in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares…to burn them: but gather [last] the wheat into my barn.”-Matthew 13:30.

Jesus told us the reapers symbolized the angels; and the harvest, the end of the world. But we reasoned, in the previous essay, that we judge ourselves; we choose to enter heaven, or remain without love. So we are the angels, in that parable; and, in this one, we are the laborers.

“And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.”-Matthew 20:2.

I love the King James version, because it usually gives literal translations of the original text. But sometimes it doesn’t. The standard payment for a day’s work, at this time, in Palestine, was a “denarius.” We lose nothing in the given translation, but it’s nice to know.

The laborers made a covenant with the householder. These workers hired themselves out on a daily basis. Without that payment, they and their families didn’t eat.

“And [the householder] went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace. / And said unto them: Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.”-Matthew 20:3, 4.

The first hour of the day was 6 am. Instead of the time of day, let us think of this as the ages of humanity, or the morning, afternoon, and evening of our lives. In the beginning, God made a covenant with Noah; later, with Abraham (Noah’s descendant), then with Abraham’s descendants (Isaac and Jacob); still later, with Moses, and finally with the Israelites as a whole.

The renewing of the covenant ended or, rather, transformed, with Jesus: the personification of the Promised Land, whose teaching and example of love allows for our own personal covenants. While the Israelites made a national agreement, for a set wage, Jesus gives the rest of us “whatsoever is right.”

“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”-Revelation 20:12.

Here in the vineyard, God pays us according to our works, what we do, think, and say. The last equals the first: God is Alpha and Omega. It doesn’t matter how long we labor, or how highly our task ranks.

Still, we tend to think that way, defining as important the number of hours on our time sheet, and whether we’re a supervisor, or newly hired.

“…Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and the great ones exercise authority upon them. / But so shall it not be among you…. / …whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”-Mark 10:42-44.

We must guard against the assumption that God thinks as we do. The closest we get to understanding the Lord is when we know that God loves us all.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.”-Isaiah 55:8.

The householder doesn’t promise a set wage for those hired in the third hour, or the others who come later. Only the first know what they’ll receive for their work. If the householder pays them, who’re recently hired, less than a denarius, they won’t be able to feed their families. Yet, they work anyway, not knowing what they’ll be paid.

They live on faith, and survive on grace.

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”-Ephesians 2:8.

We can’t understand, and shouldn’t try to interpret an isolated passage from the Bible, like this one. If we did, we’d assume that we can do whatever we want; and God will forgive us. Whether or not that’s what Paul meant, we see the idea in a new light, when we are born again.

No matter how long we work for God, beginning in childhood or old age, we still accomplish the Word, and shine light in darkness. Even if we comfort only one person, feed one animal, water one plant, by grace the Lord rewards us for doing the work given to us.

“Again [the householder] went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.”-Matthew 20:5.

With the twelve-hour day half, and three quarters, done, the householder hires more workers. He calls as many as possible, to gather the harvest before the rain comes. He needs these last, just as much as the first.

This parable teaches the reality of equality. Since God is everything and everyone, no one is more (or less) a part of God than anyone else.

“…The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.”-Luke 10:2.

The Bible reminds us of what we tend to forget. We overlook our natural tendencies for jealousy. We want to show strength, when we feel weak. We put ourselves above others, not by raising ourselves, but by lowering others.

We do this because others do it. We turn everything into a contest of wills and pride. But pride is a lie; humility is the truth.

As our example, Jesus showed us what it means to be humble.

“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.”-John 13:14.

The harvesters are all equal, because we all do God’s will: whether a little or a lot, for years or minutes, hundreds of times or once.

“And about the eleventh hour [the householder] went out, and found others standing idle, and said unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?”-Matthew 20:16.

Even in the 11th hour, God needs all of us to finish the work in time. Is dinner any less important because it’s not breakfast? Is that good friend we meet, when we’re elderly, any less loved because we weren’t childhood friends?

Everything has a time, place, and purpose; each of us accomplishes what no one else can do. This uniqueness equalizes everything. We fill in the gaps, and do the work, that no one else can.

“[The laborers] say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.”-Matthew 20:27.

When we’re mindful of God’s will, and our participation in the planting, growth, and harvest of the world, we’re always on the clock, always on the move, never slowing, or ceasing in our work, spreading the Word with our example: go, go, go!

But when we aren’t mindful, and, therefore, in denial of our mortality, and frail limitations, then we ignore the ticking of our time clock.

There is a day, hour, minute, and place with my name on it. When my shift is over, then I will work no more, forever.

We must love every moment, every one, and every thing: That’s what the Bible means when it tells us to love God. If we waste any time, standing idle, by not loving whatever work the Lord gives us, then we risk not eating at the end of the day. Without love’s nourishment, not only will we die, but we’ll take others with us.

“I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”-John 17:4.

At the end of our shift, our only “day” on this world, how soothing it would be, to know that we finished our task, our reason for being here in the first place. Maybe we never knew what work we needed to do, what, precisely, God had in mind for us. But God knows.

Even though I don’t know how I fit into the boss’ grand plan, when born again, I answer the call; I choose to love whatever and whomever finds their way into my life.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”-John 13:35.

And so, in the words of my favorite song: “My heart will lie peaceful and calm, when I’m laid to my rest.”

No matter what we do, or know, whether we stand idle, or keep moving, the end of the work day comes. The harvesters gather the last of the wheat and tares. The vines collapse beneath the torrential rain. The Lamb breaks the seventh seal, and opens the Book of Life.

“So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.”-Matthew 20:8.

Pay day! Judgment day; the Day of the Lord; the end of days: Everything we did and worked for comes down to this. We can’t add a cubit to our stature, or an hour to our time card. What we did is what we have to show for ourselves. What we did is who we are.

What will you have to show, when you lie awake in bed, or when your loved one passes away? Will you be left with the eternal lake of fire of your regret, wailing and gnashing your teeth? Or will you know that you did your best? There can be no doubt, as that’s pointless. What you did, and who you are is, simply, what you did, and who you are.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.”-John 15:1.

If we love everyone, all during our work day, and repent when we stumble and stand idle, then we’ve harvested the love we learned from the vine, we accomplished the gardener’s job (which is God’s will), and there can be no doubt, fear, or regret.

The fun (and often confusing) part of Bible interpretation is that God is all characters, and so are we. God is the householder, lord of the vineyard, the steward, and laborers, the vineyard as a whole, and the singular vine.

God is everything, and more. Infinity is always larger than the biggest number.

“That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.”-Isaiah 45:6.

And since God made us, and directs our path, we are of God.

“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”-Jeremiah 1:5.

We judge and reward ourselves, based on what we choose to do. We harvest what we plant, reap what we sow; and if we sow the wind, we reap the whirlwind.

No matter how much we lie to ourselves, we cannot escape the truth in our hearts. We know what’s written in the book of our lives: We write it, seal it, and open it. We are Judgment Day! Likewise, so is God.

God is the truth in our hearts, the works that we do, the lake of fire, and eternal peace of mind.

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”-Isaiah 45:7.

We are God’s prophets, the Word, the light of Jesus that shows the way; and we create evil. We are God’s work.

So when we, the stewards, and Jesus (who is also the steward), call ourselves, as he calls us, we reward ourselves, as God pays us, “whatsoever is right.”

“Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?”-John 10:34.

We are gods, when we do God’s work. Or, perhaps, it is more accurate to say it this way: We are God’s. We are the least important, because ours is one small life among countless billions, and the most important, because we are unique: You are the only you there ever was, or will be.

“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. / I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”-Revelation 22:12, 13.

So the lord of the vineyard tells his steward to give “whatsoever is right” to the workers; the steward pays the last, first; and the first, last.

“And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny [a denarius]. / But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more, and they likewise received every man a penny.”-Matthew 20:9, 10.

How hard it is for us to be satisfied. Even if we’re rich, and have everything we want, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for us to be born again, and enter the kingdom of truth, the love of God.

“Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.”-Proverbs 27:20.

Our jealous eye sees that others have more, or worse yet, others have what we have, when they didn’t work as much as we did.

Remember the Prodigal Son’s older brother?

“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 15:29, 30.

The older brother was, of course, the first born. He always obeyed his father, and lived a good life because of this.

God made a covenant with the Israelites. The Lord called them his first-born son.

“…Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn.”-Exodus 4:22.

To them and their beliefs, everyone else was a Gentile, who would all be destroyed in the Day of the Lord. The Israelites came first; likewise, the older brother, and the laborers who worked all day.

We all see ourselves as privileged, above the common rabble, while we also complain that we don’t get enough, and deserve more. How can we be better than everyone, but evidently lower too, since they have the same, or more, as we do?

Am I a prince, or am I a pauper?

“And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house. / Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.”-Matthew 20:11, 12.

For the rest of my life, when I see the word murmur, I will think of the Israelites and Moses. Right after they complained to him that there was no food, in the wilderness, and God gave them manna, then they murmured about not having any water.

“…and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? / And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me.”-Exodus 17:3, 4.

Gratitude, friends and neighbors: the older brother lacked it; the first-born Israelites refused to learn it; and the first-hired laborers didn’t express it either. The father gave the older brother a good life, in exchange for his loyalty; God saved the Israelites from slavery; and the lord of the vineyard paid his workers what he had promised, enabling them to feed themselves and their families.

“…to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”-Luke 7:47.

It is God’s will that I be a pauper, so that I know love when repentance makes me a prince. I must go through the wilderness, so that I love the Promised Land. God tests our hearts with affliction, and forgives our weakness, because, no matter how many fiery flying serpents devour us (poor Israelites, see Numbers 21:6), or how many blessings we refuse and crucify, out of pride and ignorance, we endure through forgiveness and love.

“Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”-Revelation 2:10.

Therefore, with all due respect to Mark Twain, I am the Prince and the Pauper: just not all at once. Taken in its entirety, as seen in the book of my life, I have been first and last, the beginning and the end. Wretched as I am, when I suffer tribulation, and endure by loving God’s work, the King of kings crowns me with amazing grace.

“But [the householder] answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?”-Matthew 20:13.

The standard Christian covenant calls us to action, and, in return, promises to give us our daily bread, forgives us when we forgive others, and strengthens our endurance. We agree to this arrangement, because it saves us from the Egyptian whip, and starvation in the wilderness. This love, which results from our love, feeds us, our families, and everyone else.

Where there is nothing, and we are without hope, God fills our granaries, so that we survive the famine. Though we have no water, now our cup runneth over.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”-Matthew 6:33.

We are born again when we put God first; and since God is everyone and everything, the blessings of the kingdom of heaven equalizes everyone.

We have no true ranks of importance, only equality. We achieve this equal footing by humbling ourselves, and showing gratitude, when, in the wilderness, God’s love nourishes us.

“Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. / Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?”-Matthew 20:14, 15.

God calls all of us to action. We all live and work in the vineyard. But, unless we choose God, unless we live with love and gratitude as our guides, then we see only through the evil veil in our hearts. We project onto others, what we know and feel exists within us.

This happens even without our being aware of it. We sin because we aren’t mindful.

“When I looked for good, then evil came unto me: and when I waited for light, there came darkness.”-Job 30:26.

We judge others by what we see, and refuse to acknowledge, in ourselves. If we are light, then we see light; if we are darkness, then we see darkness.

Those first-hired laborers saw the householder as dealing unjustly with them, because they were greedy, jealous, judgmental, and unjust. If we aren’t mindful, then we fall back into our mindless ways. Being born again gives us new eyes, if we choose to accept gratefully “whatsoever is right.”

“The light of the body is the eye…. / But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness….”-Matthew 6:22, 23.

If we lie to ourselves, by insisting that we are better or worse than everyone else, or that we don’t have to be grateful, because we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, then everything we see is a lie. Truth begets truth, and lies beget lies.

Our hearts know the truth. So when we lie, we conquer and confuse ourselves.

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”-Isaiah 5:20.

We turn everything around, and blind ourselves, losing our way to the very happiness that we lied for in the first place. All that ends on Judgment Day, when the Lamb within opens the book of our lives, and sees truthfully what we sealed.

At the end of the harvest, when the rains come, we rest within the ark, or gnash our teeth, as our flood of lies and confusion covers our heads. But, in the end, there is no difference between these two: They are both God’s will, and God’s love.

We humble ourselves, when we love everyone, making their needs equal to ours, loving them as we would have them love us. Humility is the truth. So when we bring judgment upon ourselves, in a moment of honesty, we open our hearts.

If we refuse to bow our knees, God drives us to our knees. If we denounce humility, our own pride drowns us, and humbles us.

“For the day of the LORD is near….as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head.”-Obadiah 1:15.

At the end of that day, we begin to realize the truth, and love fills our eyes with light, so that we finally see the way: The last equals the first, and the first equals the last. We answer the call when we choose to, when Alpha and Omega knows we’re ready to enter the Promised Land, and be born again.

And on that day, we cry out the single Greek word, as Jesus did on the cross, with a mighty shout: Tetelestai! (te-TEL-es-ti.)

It is finished!

Our works (what we think, do, and say) nourish us or poison us. And since we share our works, our daily bread, we nourish or poison others. We are born again, and enter the kingdom of heaven, when we accept responsibility for this disparity, and acknowledge the cause of it: doubt.

If we doubt for reasons of growth, love, compassion, and positive change, then it nourishes us. If we doubt because of cynicism, fear, or hatred (which is the absence of love), then it poisons us.

Doubt influences us to spring forward, or fall back. As always, we must be mindful, not only of what we’re doing, but our reasons for doing it.

“…The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field.”-Matthew 13:24.

Jesus loved parables about farming and fishing, because the people listening to him farmed and fished. We learn best by imagining his lessons in terms of how we live.

For me, the universal poison (the devil) is the dark side of doubt.

This is one of those few parables that Jesus interpreted for us. Unlike last time, let us look at both parable and interpretation together.

“…He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man.”-Matthew 13:37.

Jesus most always referred to himself in the 3rd person, as the “Son of man.” There are many reasons for this, and we will get to it in a later essay. For now, note that he didn’t say I, and that Son of man refers to the Hebrew word Messiah (which means “anointed one”), the Greek word for which is Christ.

Since we aren’t ready to declare what Jesus meant by Son of man, we must limit what we glean from these opening lines.

So far we have two objects: The Son of man and the good seed.

“But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.”-Matthew 13:25.

Tares are a kind of weed, or ryegrass, that looks like wheat in its early stages. The farmer can’t distinguish them, until the tares grow ears. Their seeds are poisonous. (Another interesting note, the Romans outlawed sowing tares in an enemy’s field.)

“The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one.”-Matthew 13:38.

The Son of man plants the seeds that are the children of the kingdom of heaven, people who have been born again, through love for all.

“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.”-John 15:9.

As God loves Jesus, just so does Jesus love us, and, by his example, in that same way, we should love each other: This is God’s will.

The “wicked one” plants poisonous seeds.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus specifies a unique quality to God’s children.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”-Matthew 5:9.

Jesus came so that we might have peace, not only with each other, but within ourselves. The people whose works bring this peace are the good seed, the children of the kingdom.

He also spoke specifically about the children of the wicked one, who do not bring peace.

“…It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!”-Luke 17:1

Life without tribulation is impossible because of the children of the wicked one.

A word of caution: Do not assume that we are talking about different people. As discussed last time, redemption proves that no one person is evil all the time, but always has capacity for good; and sin proves that no one is good all the time, either.

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil….”-Mark 7:21.

Evil is not out there, independent of us; it comes from us: We make evil by doubting love. Yet, we are the children of God, not because of what’s out there, but because of our peacemaking, as we spread the love that God feels for Jesus, and Jesus expresses to us.

“.…for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”-Luke 17:21.

At the crossroads of every decision, we choose to doubt, or to have faith in love.

“But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.”-Matthew 13:26.

This is the fruit, the results, of our selfish, antagonistic works. Through everything that we think, do, and say, we grow the wheat that nourishes us and others, or the tares that poison everyone’s faith in love.

Remember, the tares look just like the wheat, until they bear fruit. Consciously, we may not know, or acknowledge, that we thought or acted in a nourishing or poisonous way.

Whatever else it is, sin is psychological.

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

We act tough for others, even convincing ourselves that we don’t care.

“.…but God knoweth your hearts….”-Luke 16:15.

And when the tares spring up, when we poison our own flesh, even though we hide our hearts from everyone, including ourselves, God knows.

“.…for they say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth.”-Ezekiel 8:12.

People have been saying that since the Jews’ Babylonian captivity, and we believe it today, even if only occasionally. But God is everywhere, ubiquitous in space and time-which means God is an immortal spirit.

“…and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”-John 4:24.

The truth is true, whether we admit it or not, believe it or not, deny it or not. Deep down, we know that God sees us, because we see ourselves; we know what we think, do, and say. We know the difference between nourishment and poison.

When we accept that we can’t lie to ourselves, without suffering mysterious ailments, turns of fortune, brought about by our own duplicity, and the poisoning of our own minds, then we are born again.

“So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? / He said unto them, An enemy hath done this….”–Matthew 13:27, 28.

At last we get to the fourth player in this drama.

“The enemy that sowed them is the devil….”-Matthew 13:39.

We’ve talked about the devil some, in past essays. “Satan” is the Greek and Hebrew word for “adversary” or “enemy.” The same word means the same thing in the two languages in which the Bible was originally written.

Let that sink in.

I don’t pretend to know the immortal goings-on of Heaven and Hell. I don’t even know the whole truth about our limited, mortal existence. Assume humility, not pride, and the truth (or what we can know of it) reveals itself.

Like the Son of man, whose meaning we can’t entirely understand, Satan defies absolute qualification; and, as with the good seed, which, by definition, none of us can attain completely, the Tares are not individual people, but parts of us: Tares symbolize our weaknesses; the wheat, our strengths.

So whatever else the Son of man and Satan might be, Son of God and Fallen Angel, respectively, they stand for our faith in love and our doubting of love.

“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”-John 8:44.

We lie when we doubt truth. Jesus is the truth: love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, humility. We murder all of these within ourselves and others, when we don’t live truthfully. Sin denies love; God is love; and God is everything: So when we don’t love, which is the unification of all that Jesus stands for, we sin.

“…Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.”-Mark 7:9.

We want to do things our way. My pride assures me that I am in control of my life. What matters is that I increase my power, that I celebrate what I desire, and others can look out for themselves. The fact that love is a greater way, a life larger than my own, makes it my enemy, my adversary, my satan.

This is pride, and pride is a lie.

Lies and truth fight an eternal war within us.

“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels.”-Revelation 12:7.

Heaven is within us, Jesus said. And evil infects us not from without, but from within. Lying, being cruel to others, so that we get what we want, and, by necessity, deny others what they want, seems to be the easiest way. And it would be, except the Tares poison us, as we grow them.

“There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.”-Isaiah 48:22.

We ruin the very happiness we seek, falling into the trap we set for others, when we doubt that love saves us all. We think to look after our own interests, but poison our own lives. The only way to look our for ourselves is to love others.

This altruism is the only way to accomplish what we set out to do, by being selfish.

“.…The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? / But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.”–Matthew 13:28, 29.

Since we don’t know enough to accurately judge anyone or anything, we are unable to separate good from evil. If we try, we might remove what (in time) turns out to be good. This is the reason for humility, and allowing God’s will to be done.

My favorite example of this truth comes from the story of Joseph, owner of the coat of many colors, and one of the 12 patriarchs that became the 12 tribes of Israel.

Jealous of him, because Jacob gave Joseph the coat, and angry with him for his dream interpretations, that foretold their obedience and subordination to this younger brother, the other brothers stole his coat, ripped it up, threw Joseph into a pit, and conspired to sell him into slavery.

But when Joseph was a slave in Egypt, he was the only one who could interpret Pharaoh’s dream, without being told the details of the dream. And his interpretation warned that famine was coming, that Egypt should prepare by storing food. Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of this distribution, making the Hebrew slave his second in command.

So, when the famine hit Jacob, and Joseph’s brothers, and they heard that Pharaoh had food, they went to Egypt and found Joseph. Now, he could have thrown his hateful brothers into prison, or had them killed, or denied them food. What they did to him was exceedingly wicked.

Here is what Joseph said to them:

“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”-Genesis 50:20.

He welcomed them (after messing with their heads a little), gave them food, and reunited with Jacob. He did this because, unlike his brothers, he had the faith to not judge what is good, and what is evil. God meant for their wicked acts to save many people.

“…did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?”-Luke 11:40.

We just don’t know what will come. Being totally ignorant, stumbling in the darkness of lust and selfish desires, by trying to put right what we think is wrong, we might make wrong what would have later turned out to be right.

Faith in love means having the patience to let God’s will be done. This faith, as we’ve said, is the Son of man, and the good seeds result from his (and our) love. Doubt is “the wicked one,” and the tares result from his lies, which are needed to support our doubt.

“Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them together in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”-Matthew 13:30.

Good and evil exist together. God made everything and exists as everything. Good comes from evil; and evil, from good. I think Solomon said it best:

“The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.”-Proverbs 16:4.

Jesus gave us two new terms here: harvest and reapers.

We are not the reapers, who separate good from evil. Since both of these exist within us, and God made both, and God is both, then we cannot divide what God put together, what is within us: our souls, our kingdom. We cannot divide God.

“And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”-Mark 3:34.

If we rid ourselves of all doubt, then we lose the good, as well as the bad. There is worthwhile doubt, and worthless doubt: fruitful and fruitless, nourishment and poison.

While we wait for God’s will to be done, we must also act as angels: the Greek word for “messenger.” As Jesus loves us, we must love others. To do nothing means to love no one, which is the same as hate.

The 12 apostles didn’t just listen to Jesus, nodding their heads in listless acquiescence. Jesus sent them out to preach, and act, and share love.

“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.

This is really hard and frightening. We wait for God’s will, and yet we act according to Jesus’ teachings; we tell no one, and yet we spread the word. We cannot do this, unless we are mindful of God, thinking always of what we learned from Jesus: faith, patience, love, forgiveness, mercy, compassion.

To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the hardest part of obeying God is that we must disobey ourselves. So we make our will to become God’s will. We accomplish this by following what we learn from Jesus. In that way, the impossible becomes possible, the finite becomes infinite, and the one becomes all.

“Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.”-Malachi 3:18.

In his messianic prophecy, Malachi points us to beginning of the conclusion. We serve God when we have faith in love, which is the good seed, which Jesus plants, which grows into the wheat that we use to bake our bread, which we feed to others.

We do not serve God when we doubt love, which is the poisonous seed, which our adversarial nature plants, which grows into the tares that ruin our bread, which we feed to others, and, thereby, ruin them.

Now, let us look at the two new terms.

“…the harvest is the end of the world; and the angels are the reapers.”-Matthew 13:39.

So, the good and bad seed grow together, until the end of the world, at which time the angels separate them. The “end of the world” is also our third unknowable term.

“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”-Mark 13:32.

By his own admission, even Jesus doesn’t know the entirety of what the Jews called “the day of the Lord.”

“The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly.”-Zephaniah 1:14.

Peter addressed one of the reasons for why these three terms (Son of man, Satan, and the end of the world) are unknowable.

“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.”-2 Peter 1:20.

So don’t believe anyone who tells you that they know what prophecy means. Only God knows.

The Lakota Indians called God (what is sacred, divine, the Great Spirit) “Wakan Tanka.” This translates into English as “the Great Mystery.” Some things are unknowable to us. We study and interpret them, not to know, but to learn humility while pondering the infinite.

This is why I tend to interpret by transposing these immortal goings-on into understandable, mortal ideas. Much is lost by doing it that way. But, by speaking in earthly terms, we at least have a chance of being right; we cover our bases.

“If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?”-John 3:12.

That said, I see “the end of the world” as necessarily preceding the newly recreated world, what the Revelation called “New Jerusalem.” The Old passes away, to make room for the New; one decreases, so that the other increases. This creation uses the remains, the energy of what was destroyed. And so, God destroys the Old to make the New.

This describes being born again. The end of the world is the end of our old life. New Jerusalem is our new life. Things get worse and worse, the plagues mount, the moon turns to blood, the trumpets sound. To humble ourselves, to bend our knees to God, we must be driven to our knees.

Therefore, Judgment Day, the day of the Lord, is when we fail our most important test one too many times. Everything falls apart; the center cannot hold. So we learn that we are not islands unto ourselves, but a part of God, an ingredient of the universe: necessary, but no smaller or larger than anything else.

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

We sift through the good and bad, when God tests us, when we admit failure, and learn the truth, by which we are reborn.

Are we then the angels?

Not at first. And not entirely, even when we are at our best. But, yes, in this parable, we sit in judgment on ourselves: We are angels, and we are not angels. Recall this curious statement, one of many for which the Jews wanted to stone Jesus.

“I and my Father are one.”-John 10:30.

To explain this to his would-be murderers, who took him literally, and therefore charged him with blasphemy, Jesus referred to one of the Psalms of David.

“I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.”-Psalm 82:6.

What he tried to tell them was that they were gods, angels (God’s messengers) when they served God. When we remove the plank from our eye, we can see clearly to remove the mote from our brother’s eye. The humility and honesty required to remove our plank, and their mote, comes from the truth of love.

“As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of the world. / The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity.”-Matthew 13:40, 41.

When we doubt love, we do iniquity (which is wicked, immoral behavior). This sparks the chain reaction that leads to the end of the world.

“And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”-Matthew 24:12.

When we share love, and don’t receive love in return, our hearts grow cold; we stop sharing love, out of self-preservation. But if we don’t share love, then we hate, and poison ourselves, which poisons others, making their hearts grow cold. And so on.

Remember, when we share love, we are sheep among wolves: harmless, in that we don’t return their hate, and wise, in that we know they will hate us.

“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.”-John 15:18.

Therefore, we must mindfully start God’s chain reaction, by loving those who hate us, by blessing those who curse us, and praying for those who use and persecute us. This is God’s will, and, by following it, we are God’s children, angels of love.

To be able to do this impossible thing, we must be humbled to the point of self-obliteration, and allow our will to become God’s will, our life to become God’s life, our hate to become the love that God has for Jesus, and Jesus has for us.

When this happens, we throw our Tares into the furnace. When we encounter iniquity, which we know will be there, so it’s not a surprise, our hearts radiate warmth, growing warmer all the time. It is with this flame that we burn the Tares.

“And [the angels] shall cast [iniquity] into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”-Matthew 13:42.

As stated in previous essays, the wailing and gnashing of teeth, whatever else it may be, refers to the fear and anxiety we feel on Judgment Day. It is no small thing to lose our lives, even if it means saving our lives.

We leap with faith, and fall in doubt.

With faith, Peter walked on water. When he doubted, he sank. But, even then, he called to Jesus, he returned to faith, and, as Jesus said to everyone he miraculously healed:

“.…thy faith hath saved thee.”–Luke 18:42.

When Jesus knew he had to sacrifice his life on the cross, even though it meant saving all of us, he prayed in Gethsemane:

“…My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death…./ …O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”-Matthew 26:38, 39.

We want to save our lives, but we lose our lives, if we seek to save ourselves. This goes against our every instinct. We doubt even unto death. But then, we return to faith, and if we truly want to save our lives, we surrender to God’s will.

We must know everything to save our lives, which is impossible. Only everything knows everything. So we turn our will over to God, and act in the name of love, and then…a miracle!

“Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”-Matthew 13:43.

This is what becomes of the conflict between the wheat and tares. The seemingly eternal war is really a passing thing, a vapor, a shadow. If we grasp the vapor, we come up empty handed. All we really have to hold onto is each other.

This is the truth. Everything else we tell ourselves is a lie. So if we hate, dismiss, ignore, poison our only hope, our single refuge, then we doubt the Son of man, grow from the wicked one’s ruinous seed, and destroy not only ourselves, but each other: a chain reaction that brings about the end of the world.

But we must do this. We will end the world. New stars are created with the remains of dead stars. The only remaining question is this: Will we learn before it’s too late?

“He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”-Micah 6:8.

While many of us are stubborn and slow, some do learn. They do justly, show mercy, walk humbly regardless of how others treat them. They are the wise, harmless sheep, the good seed, God’s children, peacemakers among wolves: With love, they nourish everyone.

In the uproar and hopelessness of the great and terrible day of the Lord, they comfort the lost sheep, teach love by example, and not by ultimatum. They show us how “the end” evanesces like a shadow, that hate is but a prelude to love. When the sun goes dark, and the stars fall, and the moon turns to blood, they stand firmly in love.

We search for the ingredients of our leaven, to bake our bread, which we feed to others; and they feed this same back to us. Thus we plant the mustard seed that becomes our lives.

But what do we search for? Better yet, what do we find when we search? And how do we use what we find?

Every step of our journey determines what we’ll discover. God tests us with every choice we make.

Jesus illustrated this point with a parable about fishing.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind.”-Matthew 13:47.

As Jesus told Nicodemus, we enter the kingdom of heaven by being born again. So we choose to undertake our second infancy; we embark on this voluntary search, because we made a mess of our lives: We don’t forgive, so we’re angry all the time, or regretful, holding a grudge that will never be satisfied.

“Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.”-Proverbs 27:20.

And we lack patience, so every step leads us to frustration.

Where did we go wrong? We fix things this second time around by being mindful, living in the present. We messed up not when we were babies: we were too young to know right from wrong. Nor did we ruin things at the end of the journey: by then we’d become Sodom.

No, we made mistakes along the way, during our search.

The first verse of this parable sets the scene, reducing our years to one sentence. Here, before we choose, before we judge, we learn faith.

We gather of every kind. We can’t help what goes into our net, what we experience. Everything we sense and imagine resides forevermore in our consciousness, our soul.

So what do we find? Everything: God.

“Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.”-Matthew 13:48.

Jesus invites us to consider this lesson now, because, in the heat of the moment, we don’t have time to think. Here, we teeter on the edge of judgment, summoning our strength for a leap of faith. Before we leap or fall, we must remember the basic truths of Christianity, which, if we understand and follow, causes us to be born again.

All that we interpret in the Bible and life, we must first run it through these three axioms: (1) God is everything, and God is love, (2) so love one another, and (3) by love Jesus means, at the bare minimum:

“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.”-Luke 6:37.

This goes back to the Bible’s first lesson, what we call “the original sin.” Adam and Eve ate the fruit that gave them knowledge of good and evil. Judgment began there. This is the knowledge of opposites, our basis for judging others as good or evil, pretty or ugly, brave or cowardly.

If we judge, then we fall. In order to properly judge someone, we must know everything about them: past, present, future, not to mention their thoughts, dreams, fears, aspirations, the causes by which they act, and all the resultant effects. No one of us can know these things.

Throughout his book, Job claims to know all there is about God, and the Lord’s will. Then, in four marvelous chapters (38-41), God calls him out.

“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding. // Who hath divided a water-course for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder; / To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man.”–Job 38:4, 25, 26.

When faced with the truth of his small place in the universe, and the overwhelming majesty of all that exists besides him….

“Then Job answered the Lord, and said, / I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. // I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. / Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”-Job 42:1, 2, 5, 6.

We sin by judging, not just because we condemn incorrectly, but because we exalt ourselves to God’s position, by believing we know what only the Lord can know.

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

This includes ourselves. If we put ourselves above God, we fall. We are a part of the universe, not the entire thing.

Job teaches not only patience, but repentance. If we search for patience, we find faith; if we search for repentance, we find forgiveness.

So, in this parable, when we separate the good fish from the bad, we doom our entire journey. We cannot distinguish between good and bad, and, if we do, we love one and hate the other. We can’t know everything; only everything knows everything.

The best person can do the worst things, and the worst can do the best; a coward rises to heroism, and a hero crumbles into cowardice; the ugly duckling becomes beautiful, and the beautiful person turns ugly.

What is, is not always what was, or what will be.

Who distinguishes between good and bad, if we don’t?

“So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just.”-Matthew 13:49.

Every so often, Jesus reveals the meaning of his parables. Quite a few of these kingdom of heaven parables center around Judgment Day, what the Jews call the Day of the Lord. At first glance, this complicates matters for us, as we attempt to interpret scripture.

“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”-Matthew 24:36.

Jesus tells us plainly that we cannot understand, predict, or knowingly prepare for his Second Coming. Like D-Day, it remains a secret until it occurs.

“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.”-Mark 13:33.

Jesus cautions us to prepare, while also warning us that we don’t know what will be on our ultimate test.

Over the years, many people attempted to interpret what day Jesus would come, and failed. We must accept our limitations; that is how we learn patience, and strengthen our faith.

“If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?”-John 3:12.

So far we’ve seen, by Jesus’ explanation, that the good fish are the “just” people; and the bad fish are the “wicked” people. We cannot judge these qualities, or the lack thereof, but we can (and do) commit good and wicked deeds.

Noah’s story introduces us to these basic definitions.

“…Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.”-Genesis 6:9.

The just person (the good fish) walks (or swims) with God.

“And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”-Genesis 6:5.

The wicked person (the bad fish) thinks and/or does evil.

Only in rare examples are people good or bad all the time. King David committed adultery; Jacob betrayed Esau: But Jesus descended from Jacob and David.

Since we all sin, there’s no such thing as a good person.

“For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.”-Ecclesiastes 7:20.

On the cross beside Jesus, the thief repented; in the whale’s belly, Jonah repented.

Since we can repent, there’s no such thing as an evil person.

“This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”-Psalm 118:24.

God made everything, and continues to live as everything: the opportunity to sin, the sin itself, all that we call evil, and what we call good.

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”-Isaiah 45:7.

Fill in the blank with whatever you choose: The is the ____ which the Lord hath made. Everything fits into that.

If we choose to not lie to ourselves, believing that we can differentiate good from bad, then we learn faith. And if we search for faith, we find patience; likewise, if we search for forgiveness, we find repentance.

The opposite of judging is accepting. We love what we accept. And we rejoice in what and whom we love. So we must not judge, because we’re only alienating ourselves from love.

“…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”-Matthew 25:40.

We don’t separate the good from the bad, the angels do.

To behave justly, We walk with God, as Noah did; and to walk with God, we follow Jesus.

“And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.”–John 8:29.

So our search is not really a search, but a parade: the love parade. Jesus leads us through his lessons. He teaches us to accept everything as being part of God, made by divine love.

And when he revealed the two most important commandments, he also hinted that they were really one and the same.

“…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 great commandment. / And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”-Matthew 22:37-39.

Therefore, when we behave justly, we love everyone and everything with all our heart, soul, and mind. Remember, we refer to behavior, as no one is good or wicked all the time.

In our lifetime, we search for the ingredients of our leaven, accepting all, good and bad, because there is no good and bad, only God.

“…Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”-Matthew 5:44.

When we behave wickedly, we do not rejoice in love, or in the acceptance and respect of all we encounter. This hurts us, as we deny ourselves the love that comes from loving others, and the blessing that comes from blessing others. Instead, by cursing others, we curse ourselves.

“And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”-Genesis 12:3.

Wickedness is not just a lack of morality, it is psychologically self-inflicted torture.

“But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. / There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”–Isaiah 57:20, 21.

We attempt to hurt others, by not loving them. We want to pay them back, an eye for an eye, for not loving us. With their corrupt leaven, they made their wicked bread, which they fed to us; our fishing net scooped up their bad fish.

This brings us to the final question we must face in our search for patience and repentance, our parade toward the kingdom of heaven, and the peace we find and share when we are born again.

What do with do with what we find?

“And [the angels] shall cast [the wicked] into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”-Matthew 13:50.

At last we reach the summit (one of them, at least), the heart of the matter. In our studies of the kingdom of heaven parables, we’ll see plenty more talk of this furnace, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth. So we can’t cover everything now, but we can attempt to establish a working understanding: not necessarily of the heavenly meaning, which is beyond us, but of the earthly meaning.

And it is this: In Jesus’ lessons, uselessness invites disaster; by being useful, we are born again.

“.…every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”-Matthew 3:10.

So if the tree doesn’t bear good fruit, what kind of fruit do we get?

“.…every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.”-Matthew 7:17.

This is all the same teaching, phrased differently, and elaborated upon each time.

When we don’t judge, our indiscriminate fishing net takes in everything it comes across. The fish represent various behaviors (good and bad).

These fish are the fruits of our trees, the results of our works: whether we follow our own will, obeying ourselves, or if we follow God’s will, obeying God.

“And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.”-Matthew 21:19.

Our judgment appears to inform us of what is good, which we keep, and what is bad, which we burn like dead leaves. But our judgment deceives us.

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

We lack the qualities of God needed to accurately judge. Sometimes we must decide: turn right or left, eat or starve, repent or not. Other judgments seem just as obvious to us, like whether a tree has borne fruit, or only leaves.

We can’t see the future. We don’t know whether or not the coward will heroically save the day tomorrow; perhaps they would, if only we hadn’t dismissed them, branding them as weak and worthless.

“And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be….”-Mark 13:7.

Tribulation occurs necessarily before the Second Coming, before we are born again. Only when hardship exhausts us, can we know the truth of our hearts. Only when God chooses us from the furnace of affliction do we know if our tree bears useful fruit, or useless leaves.

Useful fruit accepts love, and shares it with others. Corrupt fruit surrenders to base instincts: fighting for territory, tearing down what should be allowed to grow.

“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.

If we love, Jesus rewards us with love. Therefore, by loving everyone and everything, we include ourselves, feeding ourselves with the good fish, the good fruit.

If we don’t love, we receive the absence of love, which is hate, corruption, and a hard, lonely heart. By hating and seeking to destroy everyone and everything, we include ourselves, destroying ourselves with the bad fish, the evil fruit, dooming our journey, resulting in Sodom.

Without love, we wail, and cry, and gnash our teeth. Our evil fruits torment us day and night, until we repent, by forgiving ourselves and others.

“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth….”-Luke 15:7.

Among the few things we must choose, forgiveness determines what we find in our search, and what we do with what we find, if we have the patience to not judge.

We believe that we must be in control, and suffer deep anxiety when tribulation smites our lives, and hurls all we’ve worked for into the abyss, which we can’t reach, let alone control. But, as usual, we are wrong.

When life is out of our control, it lies beyond our will, and rests in God’s hands. When this happens, rejoice! What is impossible to us is possible with God. The Lord reaches into the abyss, and returns our lives to love, when we practice patience, faith, and forgiveness.

We do what we can. We wait; we search; we worry. We love when we can, and hate when we’re too exhausted, when the wolves have overrun the sheep. We leap for forgiveness, judging others and falling into the furnace, wailing and gnashing our teeth.

Finally, like Peter, when the storm overwhelms us, when we’ve tried and failed to walk on water, when our lives sink with Jonah’s whale, with no other recourse, we finally learn the lesson of humility, like Job. And we cry, Lord, save me!

Then we discover that our search is really a parade. God was with us all along: waiting for us to allow Jesus to cure our blindness, so that we see the rejuvenation of repentance; our deafness, so that we listen to the love in our hearts, and forgive the thief on the cross; and our inability to walk in His path, His way, which is really our way, if we only have the faith to accept the truth.

With this revelation, we are born again, accepting the good and bad fish, allowing God to do with us whatever the world needs to realize its rightful place as the kingdom of heaven.

Previously, in our study of the Kingdom of Heaven parables, Jesus taught how we mix leaven, the contents of our lives-thoughts, actions, emotions, what we love, or hate-into the dough, which we use to make our bread, the sustenance of our souls. We share this bread with others, and they share theirs with us. Our bread becomes their leaven, and vice versa.

Therefore, we must remain aware of what we do, think, and share. Leaven starts a chain reaction. Jesus described it as planting a mustard seed. The smallest seed, a seemingly insignificant grain (a word or an action) results in what kind of tree all the birds of the air call home.

To plant the seed, we spend our lives searching for and gathering the ingredients, what we’ll mix into our dough. So our search determines not only the destination and quality of our lives, but the whole tree: everyone, everything, what/whom we call God, life.

How we search, and what we seek, becomes who we are, and who we will be. Jesus compared this to treasure hunting.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth the field.”-Matthew 13:44.

He immediately followed this parable with another, which is so similar that we can look at both together. By noticing their similarities (and dissimilarities), we see the message behind them.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls. / Who, when he found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”-Matthew 13:45, 46.

Jesus began with the word again. Not only do each of these two parables repeat the message of the other, they also restate what all the Kingdom of Heaven parables declare, and bring to mind that all of Jesus’ teachings, and, indeed, everything in the Bible has but one message.

“And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”-Jeremiah 29:13.

We find what we want and need, when we admit what we want and need. God wants us to know what’s in our hearts, to be honest with ourselves, each other, and Him. When we combine unconditional, nonjudmental love with honesty and humility, then we search with all our heart.

Again, not only one message, but all the lessons of the Bible have one goal.

“…Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts….”–Malachi 3:7.

There are as many paths to God as there are people. Each lesson potentially appeals to one person. What makes you love without judgment? What inspires you to put aside childish tribalism, the us-versus-them mentality, and pursue an us-equals-them spirituality?

Return to love, and love will return to you. Whatever we turn to, it turns to us; whatever we seek and find, finds us: That’s the spiritual version of Newton’s law of motion for equal and opposite forces.

So if we turn to hate, then hate turns to us. We can’t control how others treat us, only how we treat them in return.

The single moral in all the Bible’s lessons (what it teaches again and again) is that we act without thinking. We lack mindfulness: We eat the forbidden fruit because it looks good; we crucify the unconditional love we’ve been waiting for, because we feel guilty for not practicing it.

Whatever path we take to loving one another, we must first be mindful. Mindful of what? That’s up to you. That’s your path. Whatever it takes for you to open the door, leave behind thoughtless judgment, and be born again.

…the kingdom of heaven is like unto….

Jesus never told us what God is, or what Heaven is, exactly, literally. He rarely spoke of God, instead referring to “Father.”

“As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.”-John 6:57.

In Gethsemane, he called God “Abba” (an Aramaic term used by Jewish children when talking with their father, like daddy for us).

“And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.”-Mark 14:36.

So the Lord is our Father, and we are his little children.

And Jesus gave reasons for these similes and parables.

“If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?”-John 3:12.

Instead of telling us what heaven is, Jesus teaches us what heaven is like, because it is here, on earth (with our mothers and fathers, and with each other) that we choose to search for war or peace, hate or love. It’s here, in our mortal lives that the irresistible force of a soft heart, and a firm mind, meets the immovable object of a hard heart.

We find this treasure, and reach this heavenly state of being reborn by accepting that we are mortal, short-lived, and ignorant of the infinite.

“LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.”-Psalm 39:4.

God limits our time to search. We wither like grass, come and go like ripples in a stream. But our waves undulate into, and combine with others; our roots intertwine; birds fashion homes in our branches. We live forever, when we give love and life to others. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

After their opening lines, these two parables diverge.

…like unto treasure hid in a field….

…like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls.

The first one focuses on what the person seeks, while the second looks at the seeker. Both are important and equal. We are what we seek, and we seek what we are: equal and opposite.

What do you treasure? We answer this by being mindful of what we spend most of our time doing, feeling, and thinking.

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”-Luke 12:34.

On the one hand:

The first parable tells us that God hides our treasure. We must search for it: honestly, unconditionally, and without judgment, accepting what we find.

The second one relates our occupation (and preoccupation) to our desire. We are what we do, and we do according to what we are.

“…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”-Matthew 12:34.

On the other hand:

Since the first parable speaks from the perspective of the treasure, and Jesus tells us how the Kingdom of Heaven is like the treasure, then as we search for it, it waits for us: equal and opposite.

It’s important to note that, when interpreting, we are potentially every character in the Bible. We are the Pharisees and the Apostles, Judas and Peter, the advocate and the adversary.

From the Gnostic text, “The Thunder, Perfect Mind”:

For I am the first and the last.

I am the honored one and the scorned one.

I am the whore and the holy one.

I am the wife and the virgin.

So as the treasure waits for us, we wait for it; and as we seek the goodly pearl, it seeks us.

Also, Jesus cautioned us: We get one master, one foremost love, one primary desire: one God.

“No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other….”-Luke 16:13.

We can only search for one thing at a time. We can put no other gods before our one God. This is practical. If we multitask, we do nothing well; our mind strays from what we’re doing, to what we’re not doing.

So, what/whom do you love? Does your treasure, or the search for it, make you happy? Is your quest and devotion worthwhile?

We all have fingerprints; we have that in common. But all fingerprints are unique. This search is your unique fingerprint, your own personal covenant. Only you can know the answer.

Notice, I wrote can. It isn’t a given that we know what we’re doing. Actually, the reverse is usually true.

“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do….”-Luke 23:34.

This is the moral of the whole Bible, as stated earlier.

The Bible reminds us to deliberately fix what we’ve mindlessly botched.

“Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.”-Isaiah 55:2.

We are what we seek, and we seek what we are: We are treasure hunters because we hunt treasure; we are the goodly pearl because that’s what we spend our lives searching for.

So when our lives seem out of whack, if we’re angry, depressed, suffering from ailments no doctor can accurately diagnose, like the sick woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, and was healed….

“And [she] had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse.”-Mark 5:26.

…Then we have occupied ourselves with what doesn’t satisfy us. One engine powers your car. What is your engine?

…the [treasure] when a man hath found…..

…Who, when he found one pearl of great price….

Since we can only do one thing well, we must choose wisely. We sacrifice everything else for whatever we love most. The Bible’s moral warns us that we love without thinking.

“They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.”-John 16:2.

We love what we do, and we do what we love, even if we don’t know we’re doing it, or recognize that we love it.

If we search deliberately, mindfully, if we know what we’re seeking, what we treasure, and we are aware of what we love, then we find it.

And the treasure finds us.

“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”-Luke 11:9.

The single thing we love can be a group. If we love football, we love everything about it: passing, kicking, blocking, running. If we love listening to music, we love everything about it: harmony, disharmony, standard and nonstandard instruments, rhythm and poly-rhythm. If we love our family, then we love everything about it: children, spouse, parents and grandparents.

But if we love football, we don’t love baseball as much. If we love our family, then we don’t love strangers as much. If we love to sit and listen to music, then we don’t love dancing as much.

Whatever we love, we neglect everything else, to some degree: This is the first commandment.

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

Ask yourself, if I had to choose between football and baseball, listening to music or dancing, family or a stranger, which would you choose? Whatever the answer, that’s what you love. There can be no other gods before the one you love.

There’s only one thing that, if we love it, then we love all things: God.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”-Matthew 6:33.

When we seek God, we love everything; and when we love everything, we find God. In this way, we love family and stranger.

…and for joy thereof [the treasure hunter] goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth the field.

…[the pearl merchant] went and sold all that he had, and bought [the pearl].

Since we sacrifice everything for the one pearl we love, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the one thing we love, and the absence of love from all other things. So if we don’t love everything, all the time, then hate becomes part of our search.

Hate destroys the soul, creates a mental imbalance, makes us sick, and fills our lives with anger, fear, depression, and gives us a bad back, tendonitis, nightmares, and anxieties without end. Hate invades our hearts, even when we put our family first, spend time with our children, care for the poor, homeless, sick, and imprisoned…if that’s all we love.

“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”-Matthew 10:37.

That curious quote makes sense now. If we put family first, then we don’t love everything else as much. And the absence of love is hate. This is the subtlety of evil. But when we love God, then we love family and stranger, football and baseball, listening to music and dancing, because the Lord is all of that and more.

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: / But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.”-Matthew 6:19, 20.

The Bible reveals our oversights, and leads us on the way to the truth of who we are and what we do, and offers us life.

“For thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live.”-Amos 5:4.

The only way to live is to love. When we realize this, and correct the oversight, we are born again. Jesus cures our blindness, enables us to walk in God’s path, and raises us from the death brought on by our hate.

To love like God, we must seek God.

“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.”-Psalm 25:4.

We learn at Jesus’ feet when we understand that we don’t know everything; no one knows everything; only everything knows everything. And so we forgive the blind when they stumble. Like the Good Samaritan, we have mercy on, and feel compassion for, those who get hurt while walking dangerous roads.

We discover God’s treasure when (1) we accept that (apart from how we search, and how we react) everything and everyone is out of our control, and (2) we put aside our ego, our self-righteous delusions that we, alone, matter.

This understanding and acceptance is the treasure in our parable, the greatest pearl in the world. And since we are what we seek, we are that treasure in God’s eyes.

“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 15:7.

Given the equal and opposite nature of life, we realize that God also symbolizes the treasure and the treasure hunter. We are God’s treasure, just as the Lord is ours. God waits for us, and asks only that we wait for the will of the Lord to be done.

“The Serenity Prayer” summarizes what we learn and gain, when we make God’s will our search.

God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

This discovery is what it means to be born again. This is the way to love without leaving an opening for hate. And, thereby, we accomplish God’s will, and accept the responsibility for our will. As we hunt for treasure, we allow, and wait for, others to conduct their search.

“Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.”-Psalm 27:14.

While we search for the ingredients of our leaven (what we love), and what we love searches for us, and while we wait for what we love, and what we love waits for us, everyone else searches and waits as well. And God searches for them, and waits for them, as well as us.

We are all things in interpretation, but God is all things in actuality. So, to let the Lord’s will be done, we let others search, and we practice patience while they wait.

“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”-Matthew 6:10.

We search for the kingdom. We wait for the kingdom. We are the kingdom. And the kingdom searches and waits for us, because it is who we are. This revelation leads to the buried treasure, and is the way to eternal life through love.

Hallelujah, O my soul!

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.