A mark of effective teaching is that it evokes a teacher within. To be open to a presence in us that responds creatively to life is also to know much in us that does not.

The poet Hafiz wrote:

It is always a danger
to aspirants
on the
When they begin
To believe and
As if the ten thousand idiots
Who so long ruled
And lived
Have all packed their bags
And skipped town

Who are these characters? Many observers have noticed and described an inner multiplicity, including Jung in his description of archetypes and complexes, Fritz Kunkel in the We Psychology, work with "parts" in the Internal Family Systems model of psychotherapy, and others.

Jesus also seems to have addressed the diversity of the inner world and the opposites that dwell there. Several passages might be cited, including these parables:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

'Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

'Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.

These three images appear in the context of seven parables of the “kingdom of heaven” recorded together in the gospel of Matthew, beginning with the parable of the sower, then the wheat and the tares, the mustard seed, and the woman with the leaven. The setting for these first four parables is a crowd so large that Jesus addresses them from a boat as they stand on the beach.

Then the setting changes: Jesus is said to have left the crowds and gone into the house, where he shared with his disciples the parables of the treasure, the pearl merchant and the net. There is a movement inward, into the house and to a more intimate group.

Though the story of the treasure hidden in the field has become familiar, it can carry the sense of a deep secret, shared only with close friends.

In the story, someone finds a hidden treasure, and keeps it secret. Many overlook the joy with which the one who makes this discovery then sells all, so that the field may be bought. Questions arise: does this field exist in our lives? Is a treasure hidden there? Who owns the field, and what could it mean to come to own it ourselves?

The second image is often heard as an amplification of the first, and it is usually called the parable of the pearl of great price. It could also be called the parable of the searching merchant, for that is what the parable says the kingdom is like. This makes it not a repetition of the treasure parable, but a view from a different angle: the “kingdom” is searching, and finding. It is alive, it has keen discernment, and it is looking for something. Like the one who makes the discovery in the field, the “kingdom of heaven” is also delighted with what it finds, and gives up much to own it.

The image of the net may have something to say about the relation between the hidden treasure and the searching merchant. We tend to hear the parable of the net, if we hear it at all, in light of the interpretation that appears after it, though the interpretation seems to diminish the power of the story rather than free it to work on us in its own way.

This image is a view from yet another angle. From this angle, as in other parables of Jesus, the “kingdom of heaven” includes both what we tend to value, and what we do not. Some sorting needs to be done. The field contains more than simply treasure. There are many fine pearls, but not every pearl is one is of great price. There are many kinds of fish in the net, but not every fish is "good," nor are they all "bad."

The fish in this net are not righteous fish and evil fish. They are good fish and bad fish, and those who go fishing know that some are "keepers" and others are let go. The criterion more likely is what is nourishing, and perhaps what is toxic, rather than whether the fish are morally good or bad.

If the theme of inwardness holds for all three parables, then as we cast the net within, we may see all sorts of fish swimming there. And to be fully human, one has choices to make. What will we feed upon, of all that exists in the human heart? How do we discern what is nourishing? How do we discern what is related to the treasure hidden there? What in us has to do with the Life that is seeking us?

There are at least two clues in the third parable to help us with these questions. They drew the net ashore. This choice making is not something we do alone, but with others who share in the work. And they sat down to do their sorting. They are not in a hurry. They know that the task takes time.

This suggests a great deal about the choice making process that leads to a more deeply human life. It also begins to suggest the danger if we do not sit down together to make conscious choices about what we find in the inner world.

In the first place there is an impoverishment and a distortion of reality that occurs when we deny the presence of one or the other of opposites. To imagine that only "good" fish are in the net is to risk taking nourishment from something that may give us indigestion, or worse. To mix metaphors, it is to risk allowing one of Hafiz' 10,000 idiots to continue charting our course. And to imagine that there are no fish worth keeping is to end the journey toward maturity before it has begun.

Beyond observing the diversity inside, there is the sorting of thoughts and feelings, stories and callings, dreams and intuitions that come to us, selecting what we will take as nourishment, and what we will let go.

To mix metaphors yet again, these parables may tell us something indispensable about the "narrow gate that leads to life” and how it may be found.

Author's Bio: 

Tim is a pastoral counselor in Napa, CA, and executive director of Four Springs, a northern California retreat center.