I was reminded again in my morning reading of the beauty of following Jesus. It’s something that is never far from my mind but which is always bursting through the crust of everyday life with new freshness like a blooming tulip in the Spring while the landscape all around it is still gray and brown with dirty snow unmelted in the shady edges.

I am also painfully aware of the presence of something quite different when I read the words of Jesus: a gap.  I am stabbed by the realization that Jesus not only spoke a different language than me but that he used words very differently than I was taught to.

Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. Matthew 21:21  NLT

I was taught to be literal. I was told Jesus was actually saying that if you had enough faith you could do anything! Nothing was impossible. I had, coincidentally, never heard the world ‘hyperbole’ before.

Now it seems so clear. Jesus spoke in parables and Jesus spoke parabolically. He was not a philosopher or a scientist in our modern sense. I have blogged recently about a better way to read the Bible and I think that this fits in with that.

Jesus was not telling us that we could rearrange the topography of our region. He was not telling us that we could reorganize our geological and geographical surroundings.

I feel bad for anyone who has prayed about something – or even ‘claimed’ something – and thinks that it is their fault that it didn’t happen because they didn’t have enough faith. I am horrified that we have taught people to read the Bible this way. In trying to be exacting and literal – in an enlightenment/ modern sort of way – we have warped the message of the Bible to be something that it was never meant to be.

It’s a tough one. Whenever I tell people that Jesus did not mean that we would literally move mountains with just a little bit of faith, one of two reactions happens.

  • they tell me a story about this one time that some people they never met in place they have never been did it.
  • they say something about taking the Bible literally and how I am making it allegory.

The second one really gets me. Because parable is not allegory. Allegory would be like taking the story about the widow who used three cups of flour to make bread and asserting that the three cups of flour represent the three continents that the apostles would take Jesus’ message to: Asia, Africa and Europe.

Allegory is very elaborate. Reading the Bible poetically, prophetically or parabolically makes in simpler – not more elaborate.

I used the example of a person finding out that there is no Santa Clause and the Jesus was not born on December 25th and concluding that Christmas, if it is not literal, has no meaning. They, of course, would be wrong.

So it is with casting mountains into seas by faith. Jesus was using hyperbole to make a point. That does not steal from it meaning, it points like a sign to the real meaning.

Next time: beyond allegory