When 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!’” – Mark 4, verses 10-12
Jesus is invoking the memory of Isaiah. If you lived in Jesus’ time, you would have been intimately familiar with the life of Isaiah, who, next to Moses, was perhaps Israel’s greatest prophet. Isaiah prophesied after the united kingdom (under Saul, David and Solomon) split into the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. He lived during a time of war, when the Assyrians (of the north) had overrun Israel and the Babylonians (of the east) were threatening Judah. He prophesied both historically and metaphorically, speaking against the sinful Israelites. He constantly implored them that they were going to bring God’s wrath on themselves for turning away from Him by worshipping idols and not keeping God’s commands in their hearts. Yet, hand in hand with that, Isaiah also prophesied that a Messiah would come to deliver them. Indeed, some of the most identifying prophecies that point specifically to Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah were first uttered by Isaiah.
These were things that mattered to the Israelites of Judea, who, 600 years after Isaiah, were looking for that deliverer as an earthly king. Their forefathers had been overrun by several empires, and Israel itself had ceased to exist as a political entity hundreds of years ago. Yet the Jewish people, the direct descendants of the first Israelites (of Isaiah’s time and before), still clung to their identity as God’s chosen people, on being the people through whom God demonstrated Himself to the world and who He had promised to deliver. They had a rich heritage of miracles; of course they were proud of who they were. That was their undoing…just as it is ours
So Jesus brought them up short on that. In verse 12, Jesus quotes Isaiah chapter 6, verses 9 and 10 to describe why He said the parable the way He did. The people of Jesus’ day were no different than the people of Isaiah’s day. Listening to Jesus’ words but not listening for meaning. They wanted that political, military deliverer to avenge their centuries of being ruled by pagan outsiders. Yet here was Jesus, revealing Himself as a different kind of messiah, one who would free their hearts, minds and souls so that matters of the world wouldn’t control them any longer. The people of Jesus’ day were living out Isaiah’s words, having harbored calloused hearts and a dulled sense of love. They saw Jesus but wouldn’t – not couldn’t – grasp who He was and how He was identifying Himself as the deliverer they needed instead of the deliverer they wanted.
Tell me: don’t we need the same Jesus? We look for someone to deliver us from threats, from our responsibilities, from the consequences of our actions and bad choices. We want someone to make the hurting stop, and yet we fail to grasp that someone already has, that Jesus has already accomplished that. Just like the Judeans of the first century, we the people of our time are seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding.
Lord, thank You for Your words spoken through Jesus and Isaiah. Teach me with them today and always.
Read Mark 4, verses 1-20.