He replied, “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 he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 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.’ Matthew 13.11-15
One of the things that has always fascinated me about Jesus’ time is the fact that He could do these amazing things – healing, casting out demons, raising from the dead, walking on water and more – and some people still did not believe in Jesus. Most Christians, or maybe it was just me when I was younger, want to see some incredible miracle, some astonishing feat or obviously God-like event that would prove the unseen is as real as the seen and the mysterious is as certain as the obvious. Faith would be so much easier if only we had some proof. Or so we think. Proofs may not be the problem we have.
The passage above is one of Jesus’ more enigmatic sayings. This is one of those passages, the kind we tend to gloss over because it doesn’t fit our image of Jesus in so many ways. Are some people more blessed than others? Are some more suited for the Kingdom than others? Does God show some people more than He shows others? The obvious answer to these questions is: yes. Intuitively, we all understand that some people have deeper and more mature knowledge of God than others, but we often fail to follow the logic of that thought to its necessary conclusion: some people are more amenable to knowing God and understanding divine attitudes and inclinations than are others. Jesus explained to His disciples that some who hear the stories never understand and we read that as a sort of arbitrary and unfair divine judgment. Why are some people excluded from hearing, understanding and seeing?
The secret lies in how we hear the parables – the stories – that Jesus told. When Jesus told a story to the crowd, He was simply illustrating His point, using an analogy to reveal the unknown through what is known. The key to understanding Jesus’ parables – indeed, all the Scripture – is whether the listener tries to fit the story to himself or tries to fit himself into the story. Such a tiny distinction, but such an enormous difference…
In each parable is some truth about the listener or reader, or to be more personal, some truth about you and I. The question for us, if we want to hear and see in order to understand, is whether we read the parables wondering if they fit our own story or if we read the parables wondering if we fit Jesus’ story. Is Jesus talking about us? Or is Jesus talking about people back then? Does this story apply to everyone else? Or does this story apply to me?
In one of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia – The Horse and His Boy, I believe – Aslan observes that He tells us each our own story, but others’ stories are not for us to know. In other words, what the Spirit of God is doing and how He is working in others’ lives is not something He invites us to know, nor is it anything we are allowed to ask or judge. Therefore, the only question we are allowed to ask for every story we read in the Bible, every parable we hear told, and every sermon we hear preached is this: are You talking to me, Lord?
When Jesus told parables as illustrations, He wasn’t trying to trick anyone. The state of our own souls is what tricks us, not the mysterious, hidden point of a parable. Some of the stories Jesus told are painfully clear, but we do not see or understand because we do not believe He is talking to us. Afterall, if we pray, go to church, involve ourselves in Christian activities and the like, then of course, we are doing all we can to please Jesus and must be right with Him. Such a thought is to deny the reality of Jesus’ own experience with religious people.
Many years ago in a sermon, a pastor of my youth observed that he had a great deal of empathy for the Pharisees because he knew that, had he lived in Jesus’ day, he would have been one of them. The wisdom of his insight is one that every good Christian ought to recite daily, lest we become devoutly religious and minimally Christian and one day find ourselves crucifying the Lord. Once we pass from seeking ourselves in Jesus’ story to seeking Jesus in our own story, seeing and understanding are beyond our reach. There is nothing that can be said, no amount of explanation given, no proof so irrefutable as to make us see what Jesus was saying and still says today, and our souls cannot be healed.
The difference lies entirely in this one, small distinction: do we fit in Jesus’ story, or does Jesus fit in ours? If Jesus fits in our own story, we will never understand the Gospel. If we fit in Jesus’ story, we will find ourselves in Him over and over again, as He teaches us more and more.
Ask yourself this: do you read the Bible to prove you are right, or do you read the Bible to know where you are wrong? The former will never understand, but the latter will come to know even the hidden things of God.
In Christ –
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