Thursday Reflection: What’s That Mean?

“His disciples asked him: ‘What does the parable mean?   Luke 8:9.

I have been watching a television show recently and at the very end of the credits there is an animation with a boy pointing toward the sky and asking: What’s that mean?

I got a call last evening asking if our church could pay for a hotel room for nine nights for a homeless woman who is pregnant. One of our staff asked yesterday if we could help foot the bill for a homeless person to receive training in youth ministry. And there are fifty-two thousand immigrant children hunkered down at our southwest border looking for help.

The question of meaning is a treacherous one. Often times we don’t know what something means until it has played out on a large stage and for an extended run. Such is the case with the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. The law was supposed to provide protections for minors who were victims of sex trafficking, child slavery and abandonment. It never occurred to anyone that people would intentionally send their children unaccompanied to the US in hope of a better life for them, and that these unaccompanied minors could lay claim to the rights provided by the 2008 law. But send their children they did; and claim their rights under the law they have.

We have a problem.

Speaker of the House John Boehner has a dilemma; so does Harry Reid. So does Barak Obama. What does this mean? Will we as a nation be less able to care for our own if we care for these “others”?

Do we have a moral responsibility as well as the legal obligation to do both? (Religious Leaders Embrace Cause of Immigrant Children.)

It seems to me that reality is either discovered by us or thrust upon us. But what any particular reality means is a matter of our choosing. I don’t say that lightly nor do I mean to deny the hard work that choosing involves. My point is that very smart, well-intentioned people can arrive at very different understandings of what a particular event means. Many of life’s realities are neutral when it comes to what they demand from us. It is only when we decide what those realities mean that a consistent course of action can be determined.

The meaning of a thing is not always tied directly to its original intent.

“Meaning” is treacherous  because it leaches over into seemingly unrelated areas. What the 2008 law means is stacking up to be very different things to different people. For some the message is simple: Send the children back where they came from. For others it is more complicated – they ask “What would Jesus do?”

There is talk of bringing one thousand of these children to Vermont. I immediately find myself wondering: And put them where? And pay for them how? The question comes down to how we interpret the situation. Is it an “urgent humanitarian situation”, or the result of a policy of “relaxed deportations” resulting in an “Obama administration-made disaster“?

It may well be both. Now what? Am I willing to take one, or two, or three children into my home for some undetermined time while waiting for the wheels of government to grind?

Jesus seldom spelled out the meaning of his parables. Sometimes all he would say about them was: Those who have ears, let them hear. But on the occasion of the Parable of the Sower he DID spell out the meaning when asked by his disciples. The word of God is liberally sown as seed on the ground. Some falls on the path, some on the rocks, some among thorns and some on good soil. The word comes to nothing except for where it falls among “good soil”, that is, among those who hear it, hold fast to it, remain honest and open of heart and patiently endure to bear good fruit.

That doesn’t really help us because it doesn’t spell out exactly what the “word of God” is in this particular situation. So we are each left to make our own judgment. There is always one thing that bears remembering, however. As we determine what this particular situation means, we are revealing a lot about the meaning of our own lives as well.

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.