Insert text here.
Here's what happens when the mystery of God meets the reality of everyday existence.
When Jesus was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. He said to them, "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that 'Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.'
"For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance, but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 'For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed. Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.'
"But blessed are your eyes for they see and your ears for they hear; assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it."
Mark 4:10-12 & Matthew 13:12-17 NKJV, condensed
Abundance? Or Scarcity?
Right on the heels of my lesson about the inclusive grace of God, comes this "you and them" passage which seems to indicate otherwise. Bible study is not easy. Just when you think you know something, a baffling verse pops up with a contradictory message! My first inclination was to skip over this section, but my mind rebelled; these words are so out-of-character. Why would Jesus sound like he doesn't want everyone to understand and accept his message? Are there really people Jesus did not wish to forgive!
Jesus told stories to illustrate the nature of God's kingdom. But was it for all of us, or just for a few? Jesus seemed to be sifting through his listeners and putting everyone into one of two categories--those who believed to whom he would reveal God's mysteries, and those who rejected him from whom he would conceal these teachings through the use of parables.
We know Jesus came to spread light, not darkness. So where did these remarks come from? Jesus was quoting words spoken by God at the commissioning of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. God was sending Isaiah to hard-nosed, stubborn people who weren't going to repent anyway. Jesus, at this point in his ministry, must have been thinking how little times have changed!
We do not know the inflection in Jesus' voice. Was he being sarcastic? Were he and the disciples doing what we often do--poking fun at those outside their circle? Did his tone sound like frustration, condemnation, sadness? There are many possibilities.
Who were these people Jesus was talking about? Friend or foe, many of them were decent, ordinary people busy making a life. But Jesus had a different assessment. Physical life with all its enticements, is temporary. Only spiritual qualities will endure. The kingdom of heaven, being eternal, is the worthy choice. The opportunity to learn the mystery of God's kingdom was offered to all, but not even Jesus could give a gift to someone who would not receive it.
The more they said "No" the easier it was for them to say "No", and their chances of showing any sign of repentance were greatly diminished. Dull of heart and mind, hard of hearing, eyes that were pasted shut--these people surely needed to be healed but they had rejected the Great Physician!
Once again, how little life has changed. The choice is still ours to make. It's not Jesus who sifts us out and assigns us to the realm of the spiritually dull, deaf and blind. We are the ones who either open the door or close it. We decide whether or not to place ourselves in the company of those close to Jesus.
Love opens the heart, eyes and ears of our spirit. The kingdom of heaven doesn't arrive on a silver platter. It's reserved for those willing to enter in and humbly learn from Jesus. Sometimes I can't understand little children when they speak. But if I know the child and am familiar with their habits and interests, I am better able to hear what they say. The same would be true for the words of Jesus.
The parables were another way for Jesus to say, "Come." Easy to take, simple to remember; these word pictures stay with us. Grabbing our attention, drawing us in, stimulating our intellect, calling for a response. Just as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, so it is in the spiritual life. Those with perceiving eyes and listening ears snatch up more and more until they are filled to the bursting point.
In future parables we are told there is great rejoicing in heaven whenever anyone does an about-face and asks for forgiveness. Jesus wants us to get the message, so he can heal us from all that is past. Then we will see clearly that the kingdom of heaven is the process of moving forward into the abundant life of God, both here and now and in the future.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What is one bit of knowledge you are trying to get a better handle on right now? Or something you are wanting to learn to do?
Name a few things which you will probably never comprehend? To what do you attribute your lack of understanding?
Many people came to hear Jesus and watch the miracles, but few discerned the meaning of what they heard and witnessed. Why was that? Do you think we understand Jesus any better today than his contemporaries did? How good is your spiritual sight and hearing?
What do you do when you read something in the Bible which doesn't sound like it belongs in the Bible? If you can think of any examples of this, please share them.
In your opinion, are there any people Jesus would not want to heal or forgive? Is the Good News of Jesus for everyone or just for certain people? Is God's grace always inclusive?
What was your last argument with God?
Someone by the name of Wodehouse deserves a prize for this vivid definition--"A parable is a Bible story which at first sounds like an interesting yarn but keeps something up its sleeve which suddenly pops up and leaves you flat." How would you describe what a parable is? Why do you think Jesus spoke in parables?What happens in your life when the mystery of God meets reality?
True or False? The better you know Jesus, the easier it is to interpret his words. Does it help to know someone if you want to understand what they say?
Your knowledge of God-- Is it a gift given to you or did you work to achieve it?
Would you rather be spiritually rich or rich in physical possessions? If you asked another person that question, what do you think the answer would be? In what ways were Jesus' disciples poor? In what ways were they rich? How does faith or lack of faith contribute to abundance or scarcity?