Parables. Why so many parables?
There are loads of them scattered throughout the Gospels. Some of them are so well known that they pretty much speak for themselves now (yes, good Samaritan, I’m looking at you). Others, no matter how many times you read them, seem just beyond comprehension. You think you’ve got it and then… No, it’s gone.
The disciples themselves asked why Jesus constantly spoke in parables and Jesus, as he does so often, points us to scripture for the answer,
“He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”” (Matthew 13:11-17 NIV)
It seems pretty elitist at first glance. Some are going to be given knowledge which will be hidden from others? Some will have what little they have taken away? What happened to “come, all who are weary and I will give you rest”? This sounds like some people are barred from the Kingdom from the start. That’s hardly fair, is it?
Well, that depends on who is barring them from the Kingdom. Jesus makes it pretty clear that some people have locked themselves out of heaven (apologies to Bruno Mars) with their closed eyes, unhearing ears and calloused hearts. They haven’t been made that way, but have allowed themselves to get like that. Look at the parable of the sower. Some let persecution, worries, wealth or lack of understanding cloud their view of God’s message.
But, surely you can’t expect everyone to understand these parables? Not everyone has the ability or intellect to do that. It still seems a bit exclusive.
Unless you look at the disciples. Their hearts are blessed, according to Jesus, because they hear, see and understand. Only, they don’t, do they? Jesus still needs to explain the parables of the sower and the weeds to them. So, what is he talking about?
There are several groups of people who hear the parables, or any of Jesus’ teachings. There are those who hear, don’t understand and walk away, confused and disillusioned. They want easy answers. They want to be given it all on a plate. So, when they are forced to really think, they shut off and turn away.
There are those who hear, understand, but don’t like what they hear. It may not fit in with their narrow view of how life and the world should be. It may be that it is incompatible with their own, selfish self-interests. So they ignore, ridicule or denounce Jesus in order to justify their own decisions.
There are those who hear, understand and embrace. They allow Jesus into their lives and are transformed by his words and actions. They want to share, not just their love and actions, but their understanding of God’s word. In Romans, Paul tells us that teaching is one of the gifts of the spirit. These people are those who are able to teach and instruct the rest of us.
Which leads me to the final group. That group which so many followers of Jesus fall into. Those who hear, don’t always (or ever) understand, but want to. Really want to. So they read again, discuss, ask, seek advice, listen, open their ears, eyes and hearts to God’s word and the understanding others have of it. Then, gradually, they start to understand more and more, until they start to really see the heart of Jesus.
That’s where the disciples are. They don’t always get it, but they really want to. Why else drop everything to go and follow Jesus? Why else ask questions constantly of him? Why else would Peter have stepped out of that boat in a (partially successful) attempt to walk on water? They want more. They need more. They ache and yearn for life at its fullest.
And they know where they can get it from.