Thought for the Month
"Have you understood all that?' 'They answered 'Yes'" (Matt. 13.51 NRSV). And they thought they had! He had told them about the men who had received the seed of the Word, some into good and some into stony ground. Other men, he said, who sowed, some, the wheat and some the tares, in the wheat-field. There was the man who discovered hidden treasure in a field; and the merchant who invested all his assets in one magnificent pearl, the fishermen who drew a net full of fish to the shore and found it contained some good and some bad. When he had finished he asked them if they had understood all that He had told them, and they said yes, we understand it all. And of course, they did not.
Their knowledge was limited to the confines of Judaistic theology in which they had been brought up, which limited their comprehension within the frame which allowed them to interpret his words, only in line with their own Messianic beliefs, the coming of an all-conquering Messiah riding on a war-horse and wielding a great sword with which he would lead them to martial victory over the ungodly, the rejected ones of the parables. In their day they could do nothing else than equate those with the hated Gentiles and picture his own followers at the head of the righteous, the accepted ones of the parables, the people of the Lord, his Israel. The manifold peoples of this wide earth, many of whom they did not even know existed, and the long sweep of two thousand years of coming history, of these they had no conception, how could they have? Nor could they know anything of the preaching of the gospel over all the earth, the extent of which was known to none of them in that day, or the magnitude of the resultant harvest at its end; how could they have any knowledge of the reality? "Yes, Lord, we understand completely and there is nothing more left to learn."
Are we so very different? We come to an understanding of Divine truth based on these same sayings of Jesus and we see so much more in them than they could ever hope to see, limited as they were by the state of human knowledge, and by the current conception of the Divine purpose which was inevitable in their day. Like them we immediately conclude that we have that greater degree of understanding of truth. In a totally different context the Lord reminded the Pharisees of that claim that if they had lived in the days of their fathers they would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets (Matt.23.30), but of course, events proved that they were. And so in our turn, unless we are very careful and honest with ourselves, we too are apt to condemn past generations for their refusal to walk in the light of the progressive truth and then do the same thing ourselves. If at the end of our Christian walk we have no deeper understanding of the faith than we had at the beginning we have not learned much.
But that is not the same as rejecting advances that have been made, and going back to the position obtaining in past and earlier days. Progress in Christian understanding must of necessity be based upon what has been attained to date, but it must enlarge into a deeper and more accurate understanding as time goes on. It cannot stand still. The Christian cannot be like the old-time steam-roller, forever going forwards and backward over its limited stretch of road until that road is completely flattened.
"And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit." (2 Cor 3.18 NRSV).