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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Today’s Reading | Mark 4:21–34

He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples. (NRSV)

We usually think of parables as teaching tools—stories that make the complex or abstract more understandable, thus deepening our knowledge. Yet here, as Jesus uses parables to teach his followers, it seems as though he is doing the opposite. He speaks only in metaphorical stories to the crowd, but in private he “explains everything” to his disciples, as though telling them a deeper truth that he wants to obscure from everyone else.

At first glance, it seems odd that Jesus, the very manifestation of God’s true word, would withhold this deeper truth from his followers. That’s just it, though: the parables are merely the first glance of Jesus’ teachings. The kingdom of God is so unknowable, the message of unconditional love and redemption so extraordinary, the concept of an eternal reward greater than any material gain so foreign to these people, that they aren’t ready to comprehend what Jesus preaches. Instead, Jesus uses simple, relatable stories to “speak the word to them as they are able to hear it.” In this way he prepares them for a deeper understanding to come and a greater capacity to accept his sacrifice.

Are we any closer to being able to hear it today? The mystery of God’s kingdom remains impossible to know truly, and the words we use fall short of true revelation. We find the example of unconditional love difficult to put into practice, and we struggle to look past our day-to-day comfort to a more intangible yet infinitely richer reward. How comforting, then, to know that we can always go back to the beginning with the parables as we prepare for that deeper truth.

Lord, please help me remember to look past easy, superficial explanations as I strive to embrace the full message of your word in both heart and mind. Amen.

Written by Risa McDonell, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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