Sunday, June 25, 2006

Did Jesus Want People To NOT Understand Him?

I've been attending a bible study at the Navigator office that's really close to where I live, and last week we looked at Mark 4. This chapter of Mark has a problematic little ditty in it I'd always wondered about but never dug deep into. The gist of the issue is in verses 10-12:

Then he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,
'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!' "


The problem here is Jesus seems to be saying he speaks in parables so people won't understand, and repent, and be forgiven. At the time we were studying this I chipped in and said this might have to do with Jesus wanting to fulfill the prophesy in Isaiah 6:9-10(which he was quoting), but I wasn't sure where I was getting that from. Also, Paul Slay said Jesus had a specific timetable in mind in which he wanted to reveal truth about himself bit by bit (this goes hand in hand with Jesus telling people he had healed to not speak about what he had done at early points in his ministry).

Later on I decided to do a little digging on the internet for commentaries and opinions. The skeptics as usual had fun things to say, but I did find a couple things that I thought were pretty helpful. First, there's the parallel passage in Matthew Chapter 13, verses 10-16:

The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?"

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.'

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.


Now that's probably where I got the idea that Jesus was fulfilling prophecy. But the next question becomes 'Is fulfilling prophecy sufficient reason in and of itself, or do parables say something else about how God deals with us?' The main concern behind that question is this: would God make it more difficult for people to believe simply to prove the point that Jesus was the Messiah?

There are folks who might say God does not owe it to any member of the rebellious race of man to reveal any divine truth, and that the parables were the device by which God darkened the understanding of some, while leading others into the truth. Some may say this is accomplished by the parables firing up imaginations and getting people to ponder the nature of the kingdom of heaven. Others might say parables serve merely as a sieve, and that these things are not possible to fully comprehend unless God's spirit allows it. Those are not bad explanations, but they don't really fit with the historical accounts of Acts and the epistles, where we find everyone trying to be as clear as possible about who Christ is, what the kingdom of God is, and what you have to do to be saved. The gospel of Mark itself tells us what the parable meant right after the parable itself, so it wasn't meant to be kept mysterious forever.

I guess that's where the idea that Jesus was timing the dispensation of truth begins to make a lot more sense to me. My guess is what Jesus was really saying was so topsy-turvy that he might've gotten crucified before he was done mentoring the disciples. That's the first thought that comes to mind. I guess there could be other reasons if I just dig deeper, but I'm about done thinking about it for now.

I did look up the passage in Isaiah that Jesus was quoting:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"
And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

He said, "Go and tell this people:
" 'Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.'

Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed."


When it says "Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed", I get an image of God in my head rolling his eyes and adding "... and we wouldn't want THAT happening now, would we?!" I guess when God has to deal with people who sees a deliverance one minute, and forgets the deliverer the next, we get a little divine exasperation in the form of sarcasm.

1 comment:

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