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Why Doesn't Jesus Just Say It?
Preparing for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Three Days after Sunday
Psalter: Psalm 142
Old Testament: Obadiah 15-21
Gospel: Matthew 13:10-17
Psalter: Psalm 92
Gospel: Matthew 13:10-17
Loving God, open our ears to hear your word and draw us closer to you, that the whole world may be one with you as you are one with us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets[a] of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
‘You will indeed listen but never understand,
and you will indeed look but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.’
“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. (Matthew 13:10-17).
Why doesn’t Jesus just say it? That’s what a parishioner asked me years ago concerning the parables, the stories tells about the kingdom. Why doesn’t he just tell us about the kingdom? Then he wouldn’t have had to tell his disciples and us the meaning of the stories when they asked him.
Indeed. Why did Jesus draw comparisons about daily life in first century Israel connecting them to the nature of God’s kingdom? Wouldn’t it have been easier just to tell the disciples what the kingdom was like? We often think that stories have a point and that is not completely false, but so often stories are the point. Stories in and of themselves are the truth. It is not easy to lose the story and keep the point. How does one make the point that one’s uncle is really a funny guy apart from stories about him being funny? How does one describe in detail the generosity of your next door neighbor without stories illustrating her generosity? In other words, the stories don’t just point to something deeper; they stories reveal something deeper that cannot be known without the story.
I think there are several reasons why Jesus told parables. We call the them stories and they are, but it is more helpful to refer to them as comparisons which is how the word parable is translated in Greek (παραβολή; parabolee). Most of Jesus’ parables begin as comparisons—The kingdom of heaven is like a farmer sowing seeds. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. The character of the kingdom is more clearly revealed in such comparisons.
It is true that at times parables can be difficult to understand, but I think the difficulty is one reason that Jesus told parables. Think of parables as coded language of the kingdom. In his invitation to follow, Jesus wants seekers. Jesus wants people who are open to his kingdom message. The parables are Jesus’ are a way of inviting his hearers to seek further in order to learn more about the ways of God and God’s work in this world through him. Think of the parables as a kind of brain teaser in which enough has been said, but more needs to be pondered.
Those unwilling to seek in order to understand the character of God’s kingdom through Jesus just reject the stories out of hand. It’s too difficult to comprehend without further pondering; but those who hear and want more, those willing to consider Jesus’ parables receive them as invitations to continue on the journey of faith. The parables of Jesus cannot be bound together in a single book entitled, Everything You Wanted to Know About the Kingdom of God, but Were Afraid to Ask. They are snippets, narrative glimpses that invite us to enter more deeply into understanding the nature of the kingdom that Jesus has brought to this world.
So why didn’t Jesus just say it? Actually, he has done so. The parables give us glimpses into the nature of God’s kingdom that could not be understood without the stories themselves. That is why Jesus often ends his parable with, “The one who has ears to hear, should listen.”
There is a difference between hearing and listening.
PRAYER: Life-giving God, heal our lives, that we may acknowledge your wonderful deeds and offer you thanks from generation to generation through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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