Jesus said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand any of the parables? – Mark 4, verse 13.
Did you notice the subtle tone in which Jesus confronted, corrected, questioned, loved and taught using only a few words? Do you do that in your regular communication? I know I don’t. I’m a project manager, and I prefer that my communications with people be blunt and direct. One doesn’t have to be a jerk when communicating with others because the goal is to communicate, to convey and gain mutual understanding. That doesn’t happen too often if I’m directive, accusatory, condescending, or, well, ‘jerky.’
If you read it again, you find that Jesus isn’t condemning the people who were questioning Him. He isn’t beating them down with their ignorance, or talking down to them as if they were stupid. Instead, Jesus poses rhetorical questions to them, forcing them to spiritually engage with Him and intellectually examine what it is He has to say. That seems like a lot for a first century rabbi to do, doesn’t it? We consider the people before us to have been more primitive, yet this is incredibly complex. That makes perfect sense, you see if you consider Jesus to be exactly who He says He is.
It’s actually one of the things I like most about Jesus: that He says so much in what He says, conveying deep and intricate meanings without talking too much. In the Parable of the Sower, He’s teaching God 101. God offers His salvation to everyone, but not everyone lets it take root. He does this by using figurative language to paint pictures that are descriptive and appealing as well as provocative and convicting. I don’t know of too many modern speakers in our time who can do that very well, but the Rabbi from Nazareth does.
He then asks people about what He’s told them. They offer questions back to Him, and He demonstrates both His loving humility and His endless patience in hearing them out. Rather than smack them down, He continues to teach. It’s as if He’s saying, “ok, are you with me so far? Listen up now because this is important.” Rabbis teach rhetorically, but Jesus uses that same rhetoric while making it personal to the person. Allah doesn’t do that, instead decreeing all that we must do to approach the love he only offers conditionally. Buddha doesn’t do that, instead, sending us off navel-gazing to look for inner peace where there exists only inner turmoil. Scientology, Mormonism, and any other ‘ology’ or ‘ism’ you can think of don’t do that, confusing commitment with real faith and love. But Jesus does it, and He does it without judging or being unloving to Muslims, Buddhists, Scientologists, Mormons or even Baptists: all of whom He loves and cherishes and wants for eternity just as He does you or me.
I think what strikes me most about this verse is, once again, how Jesus meets us where we are, here in our sins and wallowing in our ignorance. He doesn’t use those against us but, instead, looks to walk us past them into being who He sees us to be. He does it through teaching and questioning, urging us to live the life He has in store for us instead of us just settling for what the world has to offer.
Lord, help my unbelief. Teach me out of my ignorance. Forgive my thick skin. Lead me in Your better way.
Read Mark 4, verses 1-20.