Jesus taught in parables, word puzzles. After a while, even his disciples asked him why. It’s a good question. Why didn’t Jesus just speak plainly? If he had some Truth that he wanted to impart, why would he hide it? Why would he want to hide it? His explanation to his disciples is disturbing:
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,
and hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.”
– Matthew 13:11-15
As a teacher, I am frequently faced with a group of unenthusiastic, even surly, students. (I teach basic chemistry, after all.) I have found that I must arouse students’ curiosity before they will learn much of anything. I often do this by challenging their assumptions. For example, I ask them to draw the classic diagram of an atom that looks like a miniature solar system; then I ask, “What is wrong with this picture? Why can’t it possibly be true?” That wakes them up (most of them).
Jesus was faced with a difficult classroom, the same as Isaiah before him: calloused people who hardly hear, people who have closed their eyes. A bad teacher would drone on anyway, piling word upon word, ignoring that the students are bored or desperate. The good teacher tries to wake the students up, teases them, inspires them, makes them think.
Many of Jesus’s parables are difficult to understand. But they arouse curiosity, sometimes even anger.
The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who mixes a little yeast into ten gallons of dough, and lets the bread rise. – Matthew 13:33
This is what the kingdom of heaven is like: a sower scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether she sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though she does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. – Mark 4:26-28
Only with his most trusted companions did Jesus speak plainly.
He did not say anything to [the people] without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything. – Mark 4:34
I was finding it hard to reconcile my belief in a loving God with the cold attitude that Mark attributes to Jesus: “Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” I mean, really, that’s cold.
Then, opening myself to the distress I was feeling about that coldness, I had “an opening” – a Quaker insight. I remembered these words from Margaret Fell: “[The Light] will rip you up, lay you open, and show you things you do not want to see.”
We Quakers have work to do when we open ourselves to being searched by the Light. All those things we think we have, those things are blocking us, choking us, blinding us. As we walk with God, those things will be taken from us – our self-delusions, our privileges, our pride, our hardness of heart. We will experience the evil in us weakening and the good being raised up.
Jesus teaches that we can choose to dwell always in that place where our Inward Teacher explains everything to us – not only in worship, but throughout every day. We need only to remain always ready to see with our eyes, hear with our ears, understand with our hearts, and turn to our Inward Teacher. ~~~
Julie Peyton is a member of West Hills Friends Church.
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