By Rosemary Demos
Gospel Doctrine Lesson #11 discusses the parables taught by Jesus in Matthew 13. The objective as stated in the manual is “to help class members develop ‘ears to hear’ so they can understand how Jesus’ parables apply to them.”
To comment on the special communicative power of parables, both scriptural and personal.
The short parables of Matthew 13 are vivid vignettes, delicious in their real-life imagery: a priceless pearl, yeast in a loaf of bread, a fishing net cast wide. These images emerge out of all walks of life (wealthy merchants, homemakers, fishermen . . .). And if we can find ourselves in the stories, then their purpose is fulfilled: they have planted themselves in our hearts, and that stretch of imagination expands our understanding of God.
As I read this lesson, I remembered images that have come to my mind in times of difficulty or confusion, clarifying a hard-to-grasp reality that could only be understood in a spiritual language uniquely suited for me. These mental images have stuck with me. They have become reference points, personal parables that articulate my relationship with God and my place in his kingdom.
I remember the vivid personal parables that came to me on my mission, when I learned to see my struggles as a spiritual journey. Sometimes, during particularly discouraging experiences, I would imagine a little me in my mind’s-eye responding to the overwhelming difficulties. I would picture myself falling down flat on the ground in exhaustion while my real (bodily) self was setting goals, riding my bicycle, and talking to strangers in a foreign language.
But at those times other images would come to mind as comfort and encouragement. In the early mission days when I was working so hard on learning Italian, I would picture in metaphor the sheer mental effort. It translated best into a physical reality: God’s kingdom is a huge and muddy mountain. I climb and climb, forced to use both hands and feet, dirt everywhere, slipping down and falling on knees and elbows. But at the top, isn’t it glorious!
Later, in those days when I was learning how to take on more responsibilities and present myself as a leader, I would have a clear recurring image of the Statue of Liberty rising up from the New York Harbor: The worker in God’s kingdom is a tall statue on the shore of a new world, with girders of steel welded together on her insides, and riveted copper on the outside to last through decades of weather and wear. She is fearless in facing the world and in sharing God’s light. Every prayer was another girder in that inner structure that was building up inside me. Every day survived was another plate of copper in my armor.
And then toward the end of my mission, after a particularly discouraging bout of sickness, my companion and I stood in the blustery cold on a Mediterranean piazza, trying unsuccessfully to find people interested in the gospel. I’ll never forget the vivid image that came to my mind’s eye as we stood there with our skirts blowing. Again, in parable-speak: The kingdom of God is a powerful wind, which carries us to a place of safety and strength when our own strength and courage fail us. That parable of grace, after the lying down flat, the climbing through mud, the girdered lady, is the most precious — and the most true.
As Paul says, “we see through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12). The infinite divinity of our potential selves, the magnificence of the kingdom of God are things that can’t always be translated for us into neat and dry logical sentences. Christ’s parables, through their vividly imagined images, speak to the real world and to our lives as we live them. He will continue to speak to us in a language that we understand, sending His Spirit to illuminate our understanding of our place in His kingdom. Ours is the task to seek that understanding however it comes. Like the disciples, we ask Christ to “declare unto us” (Matt 13:36). the meaning of our lives and His kingdom.
What are your own personal parables?
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
Hooked on Creativity, Rebecca Knudsen
Reading the scriptures themselves and interpreting the scriptures is very much right-brained activity. If we are too left brained we miss it. We miss what God is trying to tell us. The scriptures are so amazing: the imagery, the concepts, the paradoxes. One of my favorite scriptures is in Moses when it talks about all things being touched by Christ–all things in the earth, above the earth, and under the earth. Reading this scripture, I thought, “This whole life is symbolic. We live on another plane, and we let this symbolism pass us by day after day after day. If we watch, listen, and feel carefully we start to see how everything testifies of the Savior.”
Daughter of a King, Marnie Spencer
During the worst of the chemotherapy treatments, I had an experience where in my mind I saw an old-fashioned scale. On one side, there were beautiful gold coins that dropped when there was good that came from the cancer. On the other side were these heavy chunks of wood, which represented the negative outcome of the trial. At first the negative side was much heavier, but I saw that eventually the scale would balance and tip toward the positive. I shared that experience with a friend, who then asked what the wood looked like. I explained it was almost like pieces of railroad tracks, but kind of rough and broken. She said, “Like pieces of the cross?” That thought hadn’t occurred to me before, but I thought that was interesting. I know that all of our trials, all of our burdens, our sins, our pains, our embarrassment, and shame is covered by our Savior because of that cross, because of what He did for us. The wood pieces are falling less frequently now, but the gold pieces are still coming.
Other Related Women’s Voices
Eliza R. Snow
I will go forward. … I will smile at the rage of the tempest, and ride fearlessly and triumphantly across the boisterous ocean of circumstance. … And the ‘testimony of Jesus’ will light up a lamp that will guide my vision through the portals of immortality, and communicate to my understanding the glories of the Celestial kingdom.
Cat’s Cradle of Kindess, Chieko N. Okazaki
Do you see this piece of string? It’s just an ordinary piece of string—not very interesting. When I was growing up on the big island of Hawaii, all of us kids used to keep a piece of string like this handy to play with. Now a string doesn’t look like much, but look what you can do with it!
This particular cat’s cradle pattern is called four-eyes. Do you see how complex and beautiful it is? Do you see how each part supports the other parts and is connected to them? You cannot pick one part out without destroying the whole pattern. It is the same with our lives. We meet many people. With some, the association lasts for years. With others, the association is very brief. But in either case, we can make the pattern a beautiful one by making our encounter a kindly one, filled with the desire to serve.
A Living Network, Chieko N. Okazaki
This is a net, a fisherman’s net that my father, Kanenori Nishimura, made in Hawaii many years ago. It has been mine since he died thirty years ago, and I have cherished it for his sake. For me, that moment of casting the net is a supremely beautiful one. I loved seeing my father standing on a rocky point on the beach, the net close-gathered in his hands, then with a strong, graceful gesture, like a dancer, flinging the net up and out. It would unfold in flight, opening like a fan or an umbrella, then fall over the fish that were darting like silver arrows through the surf. The lead sinkers around the edge of the net would make it sink gently to the bottom, completely enclosing the fish.
Then my father would jump down into the water and gather the net from the bottom, pulling the outer edges into his hands, until he had scooped it up like a bag. He would walk up on the beach holding the dripping net full of twisting fish in his arms, spread it out, quickly pick out the first for our supper and for the next day—very often a fish or two for several of our neighbors—then release the rest into the sea.
I want to compare our sisterhood in the Relief Society to this net. Our living prophet is the net caster, directing the Relief Society in its mission. Then there are three ways in which the Relief Society itself functions as a net. First, every single person is important, just as every single strand is important. Second, a net needs to be tended. And third, the purpose of a net is to bring up abundance.