“The Parable” by James Russell Lowell

“The Parable” by James Russell Lowell is a classic poem illustrating a difficult truth regarding the church and our lack of love for our neighbor.

God has given us two great commands – Love Him and love people. This classic poem, written in the 1800’s, makes one wonder – when Christ returns, how will He find His church? Will He find a church living in obedience to His word, remaining in His love, loving Him and others? Or will He find a church focused on image, at the cost of men and women deemed inferior?

Throughout church history, have we Christians made right correction in our lives and the way that we represent Jesus Christ to the world and the rest of the church? Or do we still struggle with God’s great commands, failing to love Him and failing to treat our brothers and sisters in Christ as equal heirs of grace? To His disciples in Matthew 23:8 NLT, Jesus said, “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you only have one teacher, and all of you are equal brothers and sisters.” Right here, Jesus leveled the playing field in the church, position-wise. Jesus is our Teacher, and we are equal brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Word of God

We live in a time, where we walk by faith and not by sight. We don’t live corrected by Jesus Christ’s physical presence; as His disciples did. But we do have His Word, the Bible; which exhorts us to right living. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

The sum of the Word of God, in the way He commands us to love others – Good work is not built on the backs of people. People do not have to be taken advantage of for quality to be procured. People do not have to be taken advantage of for money to be made. God is not glorified when people are being unjustly used – Ezekiel 34. He gets angry, actually. God is the One who is Infinite, who provides for every need – Philippians 4:19; Psalm 23:1. It’s in His name – Jehovah Jireh. And so, if He commands us to love others and people are being used – our definition of love is skewed.

No matter one’s social status, position, financial status, education, or gender (and think of any other “power” position) we are equal in God’s eyes. Equal with different responsibilities. Oh for a church that recognizes their own responsibilities, does them and still looks at others with love, recognizing their equal.

“The Parable” by James Russell Lowell

Said Christ our Lord, “I will go and see

How the men, my brethren, believe in me.”

He passed not again through the gate of birth,

But made himself known to the children of earth.

Then said the chief priests, and the rulers, and kings,

“Behold, now, the Giver of all good things;

Go to, let us welcome with pomp and state

Him who alone is mighty and great.”

With carpets of gold the ground they spread

Wherever the Son of Man should treat,

And in palace chambers lofty and rare

They lodged him, and served him with kingly fare.

Great organs surged through arches dim

Their jubilant floods in praise of him;

And in church, and palace, and judgment-hall,

He saw his image high over all.

But still, wherever his steps they led,

The Lord in sorrow bent down his head,

And from under the heavy foundation-stones

The son of Mary heard bitter groans.

And in church, and palace, and judgement-hall,

He marked great fissures that rent the wall,

And opened wider and yet more wide

As the living foundation heaved and sighed.

“Have ye founded your thrones and altars, then,

On the bodies and souls of living men?

And think ye that building shall endure,

Which shelters the noble and crushes the poor?

“With gates of silver and bars of gold

Ye have fenced my sheep from their father’s fold;

I have heard the dropping of their tears

In heaven these eighteen hundred years.”

“O Lord and Master, not ours the guilt,

We built but as our fathers built;

Behold thine images, how they stand,

Sovereign and sole, through all our land.”

Then Christ sought out an artisan,

A low-browed, stunted, haggard man,

And a motherless girl, whose fingers thin

Pushed from her faintly want and sin.

These set he in the midst of them,

And as they drew back their garment-hem,

For fear of defilement, “Lo, here,” said he

“The images ye have made of me!”

James Russell Lowell, 1819-1891, American Romantic Poet, Essayist, Critic, Editor
"The Parable" by James Russell Lowell
The Right Tools Volume 1

“The Parable” by James Russell Lowell

James Russell Lowell, in his poem “The Parable,” creates poignant illustrations, opening our eyes to what continues to be easily glossed over in the church:

  • First, there is focus on image – and how one dresses up an atmosphere when they know Christ is coming, pomp and circumstance, and yet there is a lack of love for people. The people in positions are not like Christ in attitude or conduct.
  • Secondly, praise God, Jesus is treated with great respect by those who hold positions in the church, and yet they treat man who is created in Christ’s image with disrespect.
  • Thirdly, those in noble positions don’t want to be defiled by those they deem inferior.
  • Fourthly, blame throughout generations is always shifted and there is a continual lack of taking responsibility for wrong doing. For instance, they said, “O Lord and Master, not ours the guilt, we built but as our fathers built.” So they followed in their fathers’ footsteps, and built the church on the backs of men and women. That is not a justifiable excuse. God has given everyone a brain, His Word, and people can individually identify when wrong is taking place and make needed changes.
  • Fifthly, the Golden Rule is not lived – “Do unto others as you would want done to yourselves.” Luke 6:31

Jesus Christ Amidst His Church

The book of Revelation reveals Jesus Christ walking amidst His church with eyes like flames of fire – Revelation 1:14, purifying that which He sees. He is El Roi. He sees everything. And so He knows, when the church is being built on the backs of people. Christ knows when people are being taken advantage of, while held at arms length. He sees the unequal measures, which He detests – Proverbs 20:10, 23. And He corrects perfectly.

Jesus is returning. How will He find His church?

The Right Tools Volume 1

This poem, “The Parable” by James Russell Lowell, is found in the book The Right Tools. The Right Tools is a compilation of quotes and excerpts from people around the world in various fields, discussing a variety of topics, such as: Adam and Eve; Abuse; Adoration; Affliction; Anger; Bible; Birth; Character; Charity; Christians; Courage; Death; Education; Faith etc.

The quotes and excerpts are shared by: poets, presidents, playwrights, theologians, philosophers, prime ministers, novelists, historians, preachers, bishops, saints, professors, evangelists, politicians, physicians, missionaries, founding fathers of the U.S., while also including verses in the Bible that speak on the various topics. The Right Tools is available on Amazon in an ebook format.