Artistic representation of the letter taken from an old edition of The Aleph, a book by J. L. Borges.

A God of 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 make thousands of comparison without even noticing.

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. Now, look at what 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 rows in 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 minuscule plow and –at the same time– as a figure of a man with one of his arms pointing to Heaven and the other to Earth. We could draw a lesson from that tiny 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)

The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet has been considered since ancient times as a powerful analogy. The letter started in the shape of a bull, a symbol of the power of God. Others would see in it a plow, breaking a row of soft fertile soil to plant the seeds. Others would see in it a man pointing to Heaven and Earth with his arms, indicating that Heaven is the origin of life, and the order and rhythm of the seasons. Then the letter was positioned first in the alphabet, showing clearly that the beginning of life, power, wisdom, justice is God.

Ancient wisdom

“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 seriousness and reverential awe. The Teacher is seeding the mind of the Disciple. He is also representing God, the origin of all wisdom and knowledge that itself is the door to to develop an intimate affinity with God. Teaching and learning are both vital matters, life-giving business, the seeding of wisdom into a living soul. Teacher and Disciple are the two sides of the Aleph,  the fertile soil of the mind and the life-giving divine lesson.

Teaching and learning is a sacred obligation, a holy goal that we all have to help with. Because nothing in this world is more important than fulfilling this 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. (Matthew 13:24-13:30)

The awful 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 Church Militant.

Let us do some reading together

In the days and weeks to come we will read together three chapters of Matthew: 15, 16, and 17. Carefully concealed inside those three chapters there is a seed, a luminous explanation of our mission as a Church. There we will see represented the Church Militant, the Church Penintent, and the Church Triumphant. We will also learn about the mission and destiny of Peter, the fisherman that Christ prepared to be his reflection on this Earth, and the institution that began with Peter and is with us to this day: the papacy.

I have read these three chapters many times over the years. I warn you I am not a theologian, I am a simple layman like most of you my kind readers. What we are going to unearth is a treasure left there by our mysterious God. He loves to use fools as agents of discovery. The trick is useful to keep the wise men of this world humble. (1 Corinthians 1:27)

This series continues here: Jesus defines defilement.