“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13.47-50)
I read this in a room full of light, warmth trickling across my palms on the table. I’m wearing a favorite grey dress. I’m in a circle of thoughtful and kind people, and we are bending our heads in morning prayer, coffee cups nearby, open notebooks. I’ve been asked to read the Gospel lesson.
I read that there will be a separating of the righteous and the evil, that there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And the warmth seems to evaporate from me as I let the words spill forth, proclaimed into the spaces between our rolled up sleeves. The Word of the Lord is living and active, we say – and I speak and Jesus stops me, my comfortable dress, my comfortable coffee, my comfortable posture in a comfortable room full of light.
This is an uncomfortable parable.
I start to pray in something between a condescending and a wishful-thinking tone of voice, something he is unamused by. I tell myself I am just asking why he preaches to us in stories. But the truth is I’m asking, Why did I have to read that parable? Why couldn’t I have gotten to read the one about the pearl of great price or the mustard seed or the treasure in the field?
It isn’t just that I wonder why he teaches in parables –
it’s that I don’t really want to proclaim the teachings that I don’t like or understand
that I don’t really want to be linked to something uncomfortable
that I don’t really want to be that close to some of the teachings because speaking them out makes me uncomfortable.
Jesus just looks back at me.
My junior year of college I memorized the first chapter of John in French, a project for a French class. I recited it in a brightly lit room in the morning, wearing a comfortable dress. If I close my eyes now, the words can sometimes still appear – my favorite sentence –
Le lendemain, il vit Jésus venant à lui, et il dit: Voici l’Agneau de Dieu, qui ôte le péché du monde.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
There is no safe Gospel. There is no encounter with the Word that will leave us comfortable. Comforted, perhaps, but only first through the upheaval of our worlds, the collapse of our presuppositions, the relinquishing of our desire to have the easiest story to tell. We cannot claim Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of world if we are clinging to a tamer, easier version, without the uncomfortable parables or the uncertainties or the radical promises or the hardest questions. The power of the declaration is in how unsafe it is, how transforming, how world-shaking.
I cannot say, Voici l’Agneau de Dieu, qui ôte le péché du monde if I am always searching for a way to make Jesus safer, or find Gospel passages easier to read in a brightly lit room in morning prayer.
I have to give up my search for the safe Gospel.
I’m still wrestling the parable of the nets, still going back again and again for an explanation, for understanding, for the right way to read it.
And in the midst of that wrestling, not on the other side of it, not beyond it, not anywhere but the sweating tired mess of giving up the idea that I’ll wake up to a comfortable, non-radical Jesus, and trying to learn what it means to preach this unsafe and life-changing Gospel in my life, in my heart, in the world –
Voici, l’Agneau de Dieu, qui ôte le péché du monde.