A prophetic Psalm predicted the Messiah would speak in parables:
I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old…” — Psalms 78:2
“All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: ‘I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.’”— Matthew 13:34-35
Teaching by parables is an ancient art; we learn to think by comparing things. Our intelligence is constantly performing all kinds of comparisons even when we are not aware of that constant stream of “like and not-like” operations flowing through our thoughts. As you read this page, your brain is constantly consulting your reservoir of knowledge. Your mind will go from the simple sign-to-sound equivalent of the English alphabet to evoking passages of the Bible and much more. When you reach the end of this article you are likely to have made thousands of comparison without even noticing.
The Latin word intelligentia (intelligence) derives from inteligere a verb composed of two parts: intus meaning “among” and legere meaning “to select.” The word makes reference to comparing two things. Humans are masters in the art of finding analogies and creating metaphors. When we think, we constantly find “the likeness of unlike things” (to borrow the brilliant observation by Richard Mulcaster.)
So, Our God is a Teacher that uses parables to teach. Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet derives from a very ancient sign representing the idealized head of a bull or the shape of a plow. Our letter A still preserves the shape of the original to some degree. A plow opens a row on the soil. The idea is to make the soil receptive to seeds. If the seeds were to fall on hard soil, they would be eaten by birds or grow prematurely with very weak roots. So the farmer plows the hard soil before planting the seed. “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow … (Matthew 13)
Whoever normalized the Hebrew alphabet in ancient times shaped that letter like a plow and –at the same time– as a figure of a tiny man with one of his arms pointing to Heaven and the other to Earth. We could draw a lesson from that small parable: Earth is (or will be) a reflection of Heaven: “Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-13)
This first letter of the Hebrew alphabet has been considered since ancient times a powerful analogy. The beginning is God. The bull, the plow, and the man pointing to Heaven and Earth are three forms of one symbol pointing to God.
Ancient proverbs are condensed lessons designed to teach the mind to “orbit” around certain truths and meditate on them.
“The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young— let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance— for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:1-7)
The Aleph could thus be considered the beginning of the beginning of knowledge. Because it points to God, the letter Aleph also reminds us that all learning (and teaching) has to be approached with reverential awe. The Teacher is seeding the mind of the Disciple. The Teacher is also representing God, the origin of all wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge itself is the door to develop an intimate affinity with God. Teaching and learning are both serious matters, life giving business, the seeding of wisdom into a living soul. Teacher and Disciple are the two sides of the Aleph, I and Thou, the fertile soil of the mind and the generous giving of divine seeds.
You may wonder where am I going with all these thoughts! Here is the objective. It is a sacred obligation, a holy goal that we all have to help with because nothing in this world is more important than to fulfill this teaching mission:
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” Matthew 28:16-20.
We find the Aleph hidden in the words of Christ one more time: divine authority, Heaven and Earth, Teacher and Disciple, the beginning of wisdom, the beginning of true life in baptism, His presence with us until the end of the age, when the parable unfolds and Christ begins the Great Harvest.
The crisis we are living is the consequence of not heeding the command of Christ who gave us this great commission. We must return to Him as disciples, and also become teachers to the world, evangelizers both by word and good example. That is not the obligation of only bishops and priests: that is the duty of the whole Church militant, especially in this time when so many bishops and priests seem to have lost their way. Therefore, it is urgent that we hold the plow and get to work. As they say in Virginia: “we are in the short rows now” there is not much time left.