Polemical Parables – The Kingdom of God is not What We Expect

The Kingdom of God, says the Jew, will come suddenly and sensationally with the visible triumph of God’s people:  no, says the parable of the mustard seed, it will grow from small beginnings, spread gradually through the nations:  no, says the parable of the leaven, it will work silently and secretly, before the world is aware that it is at work.  In the kingdom there will be nothing evil or unclean:  no, say the parables, there will be tares among the wheat, useless dog-fish caught in the net.  Solomon’s Temple and Levi’s priesthood will be at the centre of a regenerate world:  no, says the parable of the good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite have lost their chance, they passed by on the other side.  But at least the kingdom will be for the Jews?  No, say the parables, the invited guests have excused themselves and the table has to be filled with strangers brought in from the highways and hedges; the wicked husbandmen have defrauded their employer and killed his servants, and the vineyard will be given to others.  But even if the gentiles are admitted, surely it will be the chosen people, fortified by so many promises, tested by so many tribulations, that will be the chief inheritors?  No, say the parables, those who come to work at the eleventh hour will receive the same reward as those who bore the burden of the day and the heat; indeed, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over the prodigal son who has found his way back to God than over the elder brother who never departed from his service.  But, anyhow, when once the kingdom is established, the Jews will flock into it?  No, says the parable of Dives and Lazarus; they have Moses and the Prophets to guide them; they will be given no second chance of repentance.  We shall find, I think, that the meaning of the parables becomes far clearer if we keep that background of polemic in view.

Ronald Knox, “Parable”

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