From the metaphorical to the literal

There are some lessons I simply never seem to learn.  I was a children’s chaplain for 7 years, and have been in parish ministry for more than 7 years, and I still use metaphor and abstract images in children’s sermons.  I know the developmental stages of children.  I know that they are literal thinkers until age 12 or so.   But I just can’t resist a good metaphor  or symbolic message that requires abstract thinking.   I figure they’ll get it somehow.

Yesterday I was confounding the children with a labored anal0gy having to do with the prophet Haggai.  You can imagine that this went wrong from the beginning and just got worse.  What was I thinking?  At one point I realized I was way off the track and needed to back up to clarify an earlier point. (Too late, I might add!)  So, with the children dutifully seated in a semi-circle in front of me, I said, “let’s back up a minute.”  At which, as if on cue, the obedient children literally backed up away from me in the chancel.

Then, after uproarious laughter from everyone, I tried to continue this doomed venture.  I was trying to explain the difference between prediction and prophetic warning .  Why–I have no idea.  But there you are.  So, I asked Nicholas, who I know to be a Steelers fan, if he was predicting the Steelers were going to win Sunday afternoon. “No, they’re not going to win today.”  I  was surprised since he was such a big fan of the team.  “Why aren’t they going to win today?’  The answer was simple, “because they don’t play today.  They play Monday night.”   I never regained control of the children’s message after that.

OK…Kids…I get the point.  I’m talking metaphorically and you’re hearing literally.  Next week I promise to do better.  But this episode reminds me of something I have always said about Bible interpretation.  We take literally things that are meant metaphorically, and metaphorically things that are meant literally.  We like to take literally the passages that support our opinions, or prejudices.   When its my turn to make dinner I like to quote  to my husband what Jesus says in Matthew 6:31, “”…therefore do not worry, saying, what will we eat?” 

 On the other hand, passages about forgiving one’s enemy, tithing, and justice for the poor all come to mind with respect to things that we often interpret as being symbolic– when they are most likely meant to be taken literally!  Resurrection is a topic that quite often people interpret as a metaphor, or simply a synonym for eternal life.  But I believe that Jesus meant it literally.  Yesterday, as part of my interpretation of Jesus’ debate with the Sadducees on the nature of the afterlife, I circulated a questionnaire on afterlife beliefs.  I’m amazed at how many of us simply don’t believe in a bodily resurrection. 

 Let’s back up a minute.  Resurrection is not a metaphor, it’s just the God’s own truth according to scripture.  Those who die in Christ, at some point, will be restored body and soul in a renewed heaven and earth.   That’s about as simple a message as one could ever hope for.  Most of us have proclaimed this simple truth hundreds of times in the words of the Apostle’s Creed…”I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”   It doesn’t require abstract thinking.  It just requires belief.