I believe we discount the power and importance of stories too quickly. Sure, we learned moral lessons from Mother Goose when we were kids, but at some point we stopped thinking that they were a good teaching method. Even on Sunday mornings I pay less attention to what a preacher is saying if he is telling a story…except I get caught up in it. Stories capture our attention. And like Mother Goose showed, there is more to a story than meets the eye.
In learning more about the culture of the New Testament, I have been learning about Greek “myths” or stories…a narrative way of describing events, and often true events. The stories of the New Testament invite us to learn from true events, with intricate details and overarching themes woven throughout.
So I am more curious than ever to study Jesus’ parables. But first I have a big question to ask: why did He tell parables anyway?
The disciples asked this same question.
Matthew 12-13 describe the scene. Matthew has already shown how Jesus used word pictures to teach, such as in the Sermon on the Mount. He has recently called twelve men to be His special followers, and confronted the Pharisees about their rules and regulations regarding the Sabbath. He healed people. The Pharisees confronted Him, and then His mother and brothers confronted Him. Why all the background? Because it was that same day that He sat in a boat on the sea and began to teach the overwhelming crowd. And He taught them with a parable. It was standing room only!
“A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13)
Jesus’ disciples ask Him why He teaches in parables and He responds with a verse from Isaiah 6,
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’”
This is a record of Isaiah’s call to ministry, a position he volunteered for after seeing the glory of God unveiled. Isaiah is told to tell Israel to not see, not listen, or they would turn and be healed. Now why would you tell someone a thing like that? It seems harsh – God is dooming them! Except it is almost a challenge, like He is saying, “Do you see where this is leading, this behavior walking away from Me?”
Now about that tricky word “lest” (as studied in LOGOS), which has the idea of “otherwise” and “so that x does not happen.” In Hebrew, it is used many times to show preparation to prevent something, or warning of the consequence of an action.
Who was Jesus speaking to? The people trying to pull Him away from His God-called ministry were mixed into the same crowd as people who were eager to learn. He brought the truth, but brought it cloaked. They were welcome to listen, but not forced.
But for those who did listen, this was the greatest treasure. People through the ages had been looking ahead to this teaching, but had not received it. Note that the mystery is explained here, inviting us to understand, and be open to the teaching. It reminds me of the parable of the talents – God gives us gifts to use wisely, and we are responsible to Him for how we use them.
God never gave up on Israel, and He does not give up on us. He gives us more chances. Will we take them? Are we ready to listen?
God, I so often accuse You of being unjust, as if You were to blame for the disobedience of people. I’m sorry. I tend to come with my own agenda, and miss the truth planted in Your word. Well, I’m ready to listen. Please teach me what is this mystery that Jesus revealed after so many years of waiting. That’s exciting! To You be the glory in this study, God. Amen.