Sunday, June 10, 2018

Mark 4.26-34: Only in Parables

Picture an image with a person, a hornets' nest with hornets flying out of it, and a ladder. How did your imagination arrange those elements? Did you make up a story about a person who climbed a ladder and disturbed a hornets' nest? In your mind was the person running away, being chased by a swarm of angry hornets?

Scattered seed. Growth. Stalk. Grain. Mustard seeds. Birds. Nests. We know what all those things are. Probably as you read the list, you imagined the seeds, birds, nests and stalks that you have known. You probably arranged them to tell a story. Seed grows to stalk. Birds building nests. Jesus' audience (Mark 4.26-34, Proper 6 (11)B/Pentecost 4B) knew those things, too. Perhaps even better than we in our technology-driven, less-agricultural world do.

But over and over the hearers don't understand what it means when Jesus has put the elements together as he does. A kingdom is like a seed that's small and then not. Things that make you go hmmm...

Artists do that, too. Or they did after a certain point in history anyway. For centuries (millennia, really), artists duplicated reality. They painted portraits that were ever closer likenesses and landscapes that could be identified as specific places. They depicted human history and the legends of civilization and the stories of the Bible. They painted what their audience would know and understand.

And then artists had another thought. What if art is about expressing truth even if it isn't duplicating reality? And Surrealism was born.

The name of the movement comes from poet Andre Breton. He first used the word when describing a work that combined elements of fantasy with the modern world, creating a "superior reality." Surreal. Though Surrealism isn't a monolithic art movement, there are some continuing threads through the work. One of those threads is the use of recognizable objects put together in ways that are influenced by the unconscious or subconscious.

Contemporary digital artist Maggie Taylor combines individual images into a single composition. Her work below, "The Nest," combines the images listed in the top paragraph of this post. Is this what you imagined those elements would look like when combined?
Maggie Taylor. The Nest. 2010. Digital Art.
What does this image mean? Does it mean anything? Does it have to mean something? What is driving the composition? Elements of design? A narrative? A narrative that is bigger than this single image? Our reaction to Taylor's image may be like the reaction of those who heard Jesus' parables. We can understand the individual elements, but the combination may leave us puzzled.

Mark's gospel tells us that Jesus explained things to his disciples but spoke to the people only in parables. So the answer to the question What is the kingdom of God like? might be, "Surreal."

I Corinthians 5:6-17 reminds us about new creations. Maggie Taylor has created an image titled "Self-Portrait as a Butterfly." What do you think it will look like? Click here to find out.
For thoughts on Matthew's version of the parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32), click here.
For thoughts on David's anointing by Samuel (I Samuel 15:34-16:13) click here.

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