Then the disciples came to Jesus and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?” Jesus answered, “The knowledge about the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them… The reason I use parables in talking to them is that they look, but do not see, and they listen, but do not hear or understand… As for you, how fortunate you are! Your eyes see and your ears hear. I assure you that many prophets and many of God’s people wanted very much to see what you see, but they could not, and to hear what you hear, but they did not” (Matt 13:10ff).
This passage used to bug me. I thought Jesus was somehow trying to hide God’s saving message from certain people by blinding them from seeing the truth, and revealing the truth of the Gospel to an elite few of close friends. I no longer think that is what’s going on here at all.
Why then does Jesus speak in confusing, mysterious parables that many cannot grasp? Why can’t they grasp their meaning?
Jesus doesn’t speak in parables just to teach easy little lessons about life. Parables are not meant to INFORM as much as they are meant to PROVOKE. Like jokes, they are not meant primarily to communicate information to the other person; they are meant to create an emotional reaction in the hearer and invite further inquiry. Parables “do something” to the person listening. They either ignite curiosity and excitement, drawing the person closer into the fold to learn more and more about this revolutionary Kingdom in the making. Or else they upset and offend other people, driving them further away from Jesus and his mission.
Read the parables again, and this time watch how different groups respond to them. The least and the lost, the forgotten of society are often gripped and enamored by the teaching, and coming closer to Jesus. Meanwhile, the religious leaders and well-off people are often offended and angered.
Notice also that there are different key people groups featured in the Gospel narratives:
1. The Crowds. First, there are the CROWDS who are always a step or two removed from Jesus and his Kingdom. The crowds are those people who are interested in the big, showy miracles. They are the spiritual gawkers who come to see the Jesus heal a blind man or cast out a demon, but aren’t really interested in the daily commitment to following him. They are “those on the outside.” The reason they listen and listen but never understand, look and look but never see, is that they have closed their mind in ways that don’t allow Jesus’ fresh challenge to register and challenge them. And make no mistake: Our churches and youth groups today are also filled with “the crowds”.
2. The Disciples. Second, there are the DISCIPLES, those sit at the feet of the rabbi and learn all about this revolutionary way of life — this Kingdom. They learn the secrets of the kingdom of God not because they are the elite chosen few, but because they want to learn them, they have opened their mind to have previous perspectives and beliefs challenged, and have placed themselves close enough to the rabbi to have their lingering questions and doubts addressed in secret. They walk so closely behind him, that, in the words of an old Jewish adage, “they become covered in the dust of the rabbi”.
So, do you want to learn the secrets of the kingdom of God? Keep sitting under the teachings of Rabbi Jesus, letting his parables tease, confuse, disturb, challenge and ultimately provide a window in the radical life he calls us to live. “Seek and ye shall find; knock and the door shall be opened to you,” says Jesus. Few today, however, seem willing enough to seek and knock until the door of faith swings open.
So, how bad do you want to know the secrets of the kingdom?
Are you part of the crowd, observing this Christian thing from a safe distance?
Or are you pushing your way forward, trying to get as close to Jesus as possible in order to get more insight into the secrets of His Kingdom?