“With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it” (Mark 4:33).
At my first job at a daily newspaper, one veteran reporter put professional journalism in perspective for me with the comment that newspapers were about good story telling. He used the word “yarns,” and I understood even then that “objective” reporting was an ideal but not the reality of the scramble for news, how it was selected and framed, packaged and sold. Good reporters described and quoted, but left the interpretation to editorial writers. In the end, even the best newspapers are like the old saying about the Bible: “It is full of stories, and some of them are true.”
The best Bible scholars seem to agree that the truth of God’s revelation is clothed in stories about human sin meeting divine mercy. In 2 Sam 11, the vaunted King David behaves atrociously, committing adultery and then murder to cover it up. He will repent and be forgiven, but also be punished severely by his own evil coming full circle back onto him. The genealogy he is promised will still produce Jesus, whose self-sacrifice will heal human history of the cumulative effects of all human sin. This is the Bible, after all.
Jesus eludes history for the most part, but leaves behind a treasury of wonderful stories. He chooses the image of seeds to tell his own stories about how life continues mysteriously, renewing each generation with another chance to get it right. The corruption of past failures fertilizes the next wave of flowers springing up in the desert of human striving. The tiny mustard seed, carried by the wind, produces a bush big enough to give shade and nesting places for the birds. God’s love takes hold again and again, wherever there is the smallest patch of good ground willing to receive it and nurture it.
Such stories are like seeds we can plant in our hearts. A Chinese proverb says, “Keep a green tree in your heart, and the singing bird will come.” An ancient 5,000-year-old culture comes down to us in proverbs that infused later Western cultures. Jesus, more Jewish than Greek, is also more oriental than western. The whole Gospel is contained in each parable, given to us not as logic or doctrine but like a lotus flower.