A Digression on Hermeneutical Digressions

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“But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Matthew 24: 43 & 44

Is God a thief? A hard task master? A capricious and wealthy land owner? These are all figures that seem to portray God in Jesus’ parables. It is no wonder that while Jesus has become a friendly and personable character in popular imagination, God is still a mythical figure that fills people with a vague foreboding.

But is that what Jesus really intended? Or have we just put our spin on His storytelling?

The Christian Church has long had an infatuation with allegory. This is a method of reading a text where the figures, objects and settings all have a deeper symbolic meaning than maybe be readily apparent. And in a few places in Scripture, you can make a fairly cogent argument that the hermeneutic fits.

“Modern scholars who have assumed that the reason that the church allegorically spiritualized The Song of Songs because she was prudish, simply don’t understand the ancient mind, or the poetic mind for that matter, which is aware of the dep inner connections between the sexual and the spiritual.”

Eugene Peterson, Five Smooth Stones For Pastoral Work, Pages 40 & 41

But frankly, most of the time, we are so intrigued with uncovering secrets in the Bible that the line between discovery and imagination disappears in our fervor. Allegory is a vehicle for the imagination that travels too far too fast. You climb in thinking your in control and then you wind up at a strange destination, almost unaware of how you arrived there.

A simple literal reading of Jesus’ parables seems to provide a more reliable engine for travelling the road of discipleship. We do well if we can humbly and obediently subject ourselves to the explicit meaning Jesus gives one of these stories. Parables in particular were given in plain language so plain people could understand the kingdom of heaven and participate in it. It would be odd to find out the “real” meaning was only discoverable by sitting on a pole out in the desert for twenty years. As Sigmund Freud is supposed to have said: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

So Jesus parable here: God is not a thief. That is not the point. He is not a greedy merchant or a cruel taskmaster. But He is sending His Son back, so be ready. It is that simple. Be alert. Don’t be anxious. Be ready.

Come Lord Jesus, Come.

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