‘But to those outside, everything comes in parables’
The Parable of the Sower (2)
[Mark 4: 1-20]
Jesus, we know, taught in parables. Why? We might think of many reasons, but Mark reveals a perfectly shocking one. Jesus taught this way so that people would NOT understand him and be saved!
Not everyone was in this situation, however. Mark tells us that Jesus ‘explained everything in private to his disciples,’ (v. 34). But what is revealed to those a select few inside is concealed from the crowd outside. Quoting from the prophet Isaiah (6:9-10), Jesus explains why he teachings only in parables:
in order that
‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’ (v. 12)
Shocking indeed, even scandalous. Small wonder this is one of most obscure and debated passages in the New Testament. To face up to it, we should begin with the question that haunts the entire Gospel of Mark: why did the Lord’s summon to conversion meet so much resistance and failure? We can approach this disturbing problem in two ways.
First, there is what we may call the hardening view. If God is rejected, then He Himself must have willed it. In the story of the Exodus, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so as not to let the Hebrews go. This is seen time and again in the message of the prophets, as the above passage from Isaiah attests.
On the other hand, those who do receive the message are often called the ‘chosen’ or the ‘elect.’ This controversial idea goes by the term predestination, and has a long history in Christian thought. It preserves the sovereignty, or complete power and rule of God, but at the cost of human free will, and this greatly negates the significance of the call to repentance.
We often hear a contrast made between the God of love and the God of wrath, or the God or mercy and the God of judgment, or even the God of the Old Testament and the God of Jesus. Yet there is simply no warrant in the Scriptures for dividing God. God has all these attributes, but leans quite strongly toward love, forgiveness and mercy, even preferring to execute righteousness in this way. God is our savior
who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (I Tim. 2:4)
So we will need to take another look at that phrase in order that in our next reflection.