Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Puzzling parables

The parables of Jesus are not easy nuts to crack. In fact, Mark in his gospel says that that is the way they are supposed to be- hard to open. In chapter 4 where Mark retells the parable of the sower he explains the nature of parables, as well. Their purpose is to conceal. Then in verse 34 Mark says that in many parables Jesus spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. In private he explained the parables to his disciples. The crowds following Jesus got just the parable while the disciples got the parable plus the meaning. Not that it seemed to help all that much. The disciples could still be pretty dense.

A lot is riding on the phrase, "as they were able to hear it". How one receives the word is critical. The sower parable explains the ministry of Jesus and why so many rejected his word. It also has been  used to explain our ministries of failure ever since. Look, only one fourth of those who heard the word received it. The sowing of the word has never been easy.

So, is this parable talking about election?  God controls who gets it and who doesn't. Is it predestination or does God see and know who will receive the word in advance? Mark is the gospel of secrecy. Jesus is constantly telling people not to tell who he is or what he has done. Is the concealing purpose of parables part of that motif?

This text about parables comes from the book of Isaiah where it was used to foretell the rejection of Isaiah and his message from God. It is a Biblical theme that God has a difficult time getting his point across to us. Is the problem that God conceals or that we don't get it what is obvious or a bit of both?

We don't often see it this way especially in this political season when some candidates and their followers say they know God's will for us quite clearly. What is there not to know?

Even with our Bibles equipped with study aids and commentary by the experts, and all the sermons and bible studies at our disposal, the word of God is hard to get. See the disunity of the church.

God's way is a mystery. No one gets it right away. No one gets it easily on the way. Without God's help.  And by his grace, he gives it to us. Not getting it does not define us. God does. Yes, the parables conceal and we might flail about trying to understand God's way but the condition is not permanent. God can make plain what He can also obscure. The Holy Spirit comes to make known what has been up to that point hidden.

I grew up with a form of Christian teaching that encouraged me to receive the word of God while I could. And upon reception to keep checking to make sure no one had stolen it away, or it hadn't gotten lost among the weeds and thistles. I was rooted in anxious soil. Any gardener knows that the seed that is planted grows on its own. It doesn't help to pull it up regularly to check on its progress.

Anxiousness is inimical to healthy spiritual growth. How it happens is a mystery but it's best to trust the sower of the seed.

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