I’m all about words, but I’m also all about using words people understand. As an example, I just posted about my dislike for the phrase dominical institution (you can read the post here), and then I turned around, yesterday, and used that very phrase… myself… on my podcast recording for the coming week. Seriously, L? As I was facepalming (thank goodness for audio only) and backtracking, trying to slide the definition in there, I thought to myself, “Why can’t I just be more like Jesus?”
In my defense, I was interviewing someone who certainly understood the term, but sometimes in our (my) excitement to hash out big theological concepts, it is easy to forget that others are listening (which… let’s face it… should not actually be easy to forget when you are specifically recording a program for others…)
Mark 4:30-34, “Again he said, ‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.’ With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything” (NIV).
Jesus sets an incredible example of accessibility. If there is anyone who knows what the kingdom of God is like, it’s Jesus. Jesus could go in many different directions (and he does, throughout his ministry). Jesus could choose to give a very literal picture of the kingdom of God, describing it in terms of everything we might experience with our senses. Jesus could choose to employ a lofty, theological treatise… looking smart, Jesus, even though no one has a clue what you just said. But instead, Jesus chooses experiences from the everyday lives of the people. These people understood the mustard plant. He speaks of the kingdom using what they understand—“as much as they could understand…”
Now, I have to be honest. As an academic, I like that Jesus also has an outlet for greater explanation. “When he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything…” I sometimes speak about my own dichotomous call to both the world of academia and the most severely marginalized and oppressed among us. Some days, I feel as if I must speak two entirely different languages depending on my context. There’s some comfort in knowing that Jesus did that, too.
Something I want to be careful about, however, is the temptation to believe we are somehow expressing truth more effectively one way or the other (as if there are only two ways, but stay with me). Truth is effective and transformative when it makes sense. If that means we need to use literal language with some people and figurative language with others, both are effective. Both are true. A quick perusal of Scripture, itself, is enough to identify truth through narrative, poetry, law, facts, parables, similes, metaphors, genealogies, history, experience, reason… oh, wait… I must be channeling my inner Wesley now… Truth is truth, wherever we find it (somebody else probably said that first, but I’ve been saying it for so long I don’t remember who).
Interestingly, uncovering truth might be more about the process than anything else.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13, NIV).