Mar 4:9 Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Mar 4:10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.
Mar 4:11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables
Mar 4:12 so that,
“ ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!' ”
This is a hard story to unpack. Well its not hard to unpack, but its implications are hard to swallow.
The crowds have come out to hear this infamous rabbi who teaches with a new authority.
But he refuses to just give them the rules.
There is no 5 steps to a happy marriage
No 13 steps to health and wealth
No lists of do's and don'ts
Jesus keeps challenging them with strange stories that appear to be metaphors...
If Christ is truly God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, is there not something more important for him to communicate to us then stories of weeds, yeast, and mustard seeds?
Dan Stiver suggests in his book, Theology After Riceour, that parables contain “a surplus of meaning” AND are a “catalyst of new meaning.” emphasis mine.
In other words parables do not simply instruct, they teach.
Jesus's parables demand mental, spiritual, and emotional struggle and energy. As Ricoeur suggested the parables require a “re-orientation by disorientation”
Jesus's parables are not just truth claims to be mentally assented to, they draw the us in and make us re-examine our understanding our actions our very lives. There is personal development that the parable demands. Which is perhaps what we could miss if we are "ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding..."
The things Jesus is teaching are impossible to articulate literally. The thoughts we arrive at through wrestling with the parables are just glimpses of the Kingdom of God. The dreams of God are so great that words just fall flat. Like trying to explain a sunset to a blind man Jesus attempts to shed a small light on our understanding of the way God intends things to be.
The parable transcends a set of rules and commands that can be handed down through the generations. Rules and commands can not get us close to where we need to be. That's the problem we have faced since the beginning. Adam gave Eve rules without helping her to think about them. (compare what Eve tells the serpent in Gen 3:2-3 with what God tells Adam in Gen 2:16-17)
The human mind needs to discover truth on its own merit. A parable, in a unique way, guides us down a path only to leave us at the doorstep of a newly discovered truth. If we just glance at it we miss the deeper reality Jesus is trying to show us. The parable invites us to question and explore the teaching and thoughts.The truth within a parable has to be discovered.
Be careful that you don't try to boil a Parable down to try and set a new rule or static teaching...
I play bass guitar. I often play with other musicians, guitarist mostly. When I play with a guitarist I need to be able to listen to a cord as they play it and pick out the root note (usually the lowest note). To do this I need to listen carefully hear the several notes being played and pick out the right one to play with.
The right note for me may not be the right note for another guitar player who is playing along with us. He may be listening to the cord and playing several of the notes in the cord, one note at a time, as a scale. His notes are not better than or more correct than mine. He is listening and playing from a different circumstance.
This gets infinitely more complicated if we add a totally different instrument such as a piano, or saxophone or even the human voice. All of which will hear the cord differently because of their need and subjective experience, and thus use the original guitarist's cord slightly differently.
It occurs to me that no one ever says "your not playing the same notes." We are all aware that we contribute to the music together in our own unique way... As long as we stay in the same rhythm and stay in the right key, we all remain true to the music.
So it is with Parables. We can find many meanings and applications hidden in Jesus Parables. When we listen to a parable we need to know Jesus is giving us several notes, and the spirit may make anyone of them, or any combination of two or more of them, come to the forefront in the time and place we find ourselves in. In this way the Parable can speak truth to our life and current circumstance.
Also interesting to note here...
The 12 were not the only ones who Jesus gave his secret to!
"Twelve and the others around " (NIV)
"Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around" (NLT)
"As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve," (NASB)
Jesus waited for those who only wanted to glean a set of rules and or who were just out to see the new hip Rabbi who was shaking things up, to go away.
He waited until only those who were serious about wrestling with the issues he was raising were present.
How can we know they were serious?
They are the ones who stayed behind and asked him...
And then he answers them.
And verse 12 is a reference to Isaiah 6... Which is God warning the overly religious, yet shallow, people that he is far from happy...