All Christians know Jesus often presented His teachings in the form of Parables. What exactly then, is a parable?
Wiki says of it: “A parable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive principles, or lessons, or (sometimes) a normative principle. It differs from a fable in that fables use animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as characters, while parables generally feature human characters. It is a type of analogy.”
While Dictionaty.Com says of it: “1. a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson, and 2. a statement or comment that conveys a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison, analogy, or the like.”
In Mark 4:11-12, Jesus Himself says of Parables:
“And He said to them, ‘To you it is given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God. But to those outside, all these things are given in parables so that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.'”
To be honest, my understanding of Mark 4:11-12 until today, was that Jesus spoke in parables so that those around would not understand. Only those to whom He gave the “mystery of the Kingdom of God”, i.e. His disciples, would understand.
But then today in Mathew 13:13, it was pointed out to me that the wording here is slightly different, as it says.
“Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not; nor do they understand.”
As I studied, I discovered that Mathew 13:13 may be correctly interpreted something to the effect that: “because the people find my teachings hard to understand, I am speaking in parables to help them.”
Actually, the words which Jesus spoke in Mark 4:11-12 were not wholly His own, but were borrowed and paraphrased from the old Testament Hebrew text of Isaiah 6:9-10. In these verses, the Prophet Isaiah received directions from the voice of God to give to the people, just after King Uzziah died:
“Go, and tell this people, You hear indeed, but do not understand; and seeing you see, but do not know. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn back, and be healed.”
Reading this today in any English version, many appears that God is sending Isaiah to tell the people not to pay attention to what God was saying; or conversely, that is was Isaiah’s duty to prevent them from hearing or understanding the message. The implication being, that if this were the case, it would make it easier for the people to repent and escape the destruction which otherwise would overwhelm them.
However, this is not the case. The trouble in our interpretation of this scripture arises due to the Hebrew literary and scriptural habit of expressing a consequence, as a purpose.
Isaiah volunteered to take God’s word to the people and God accepts his offer. In the process, God gives Isaiah some advice, saying in effect, “Go and preach the message, but don’t expect them to pay much attention! In fact, the result of your preaching will surely be their continual refusal to accept your words, to the point where they eventually render themselves incapable of ether hearing or seeing your truth.” Over the next 40 years of Isaiah’s ministry, the Lord’s prediction turned out to be true and the people turned from Isaiah and God.
Surprisingly, the same happened to Jesus. While in His early ministry He was enthusiastically greeted, that all changed and He then lamented the unbelief of those in the very places where He had done His greatest signs and wonders. Thus, immediately before He sent out the 12 disciples on their own for the first time, as Mark 6:4-6 attests:
“But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his native-place, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” And He could do no work of power there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick ones, He healed them.
And He marvelled because of their unbelief. And He went around the villages, in a circuit, teaching.”
This quotation and teaching from Isaiah was also referenced in the early Church as a reason for the resistance on the Gospel among the Jews. In fact, it is quoted too in John 12:37-41,
“But though He had done so many miracles before them, yet they did not believe on Him, so that the saying of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they should not see with their eyes nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.”
Isaiah said these things when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.”
And again at the end of Jesus’s ministry in Acts 28:25-27,
“And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: “‘Go to this people, and say, You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.'”
However, if we read all these carefully, we see that when Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:10 He make a subtle change in Mark 4: 12. In Mark 4:12 the final verb which Jesus uses is “be forgiven,” as opposed to Isaiah’s “be healed,” used elsewhere. Apparently this change of verb is consistent with the Aramaic Targum, which was based on the oral traditions of the time so it almost certainly exactly what Jesus said and intended, and not a misquote.
Perhaps therefore, the words of Jesus in Mark 4:11-12 may be more correctly understood by us if interpreted and expanded to read something like: “For the benefit of those outside the inner group, everything is in parables. Therefore, those who really see, but cannot perceive, and those who really hear, but do not understand; perhaps, they may turn once again and be forgiven.”
In other words, Jesus was reaching out for all the sheep and offering them forgiveness and acceptance if they would but turn to Him. It was certainly not a case of Jesus saying that I talk in parables so that those on the outside will remain ignorant, as many have misinterpreted the saying.
Jesus used parables to explain in simple and familiar word pictures, the deeper things of God to those who had open eyes and minds. Unfortunately, those were very much in the minority, then, as today. Among those who heard Jesus first hand were many who wanted to believe, but they lacked patience and persistence, and turned away, frustrated that being unable in interpret the riddles of the parables. In their turning away, they missed out on being able to embrace the good news of the Gospel first hand.
God rewards patience and persistence as we demonstrate our faith in Him, over the realities of what we now see, experience or understand. God demonstrated this for me last week as He gave me, for the first time, a vision for someone else as Jill was praying for that person. For two days I prayed and pondered for an interpretation of the vision, but none came. On the third day I decided to give the vision to the person by email anyway, simply giving just a factual account of what I saw. As I finished typing the description, the Holy Spirit then told me what the interpretation was. All I needed to do was type the words as given. I needed to add nothing of my own. The Lord honoured my trust in Him as soon as it became a demonstration of Faith and I acted upon it. I thank the Lord for this simple lesson of Faith in action which I can share with you. Until I stepped out in Faith and started to type out the vision, I had not demonstrated my faith for Him to honour. All Praise and Glory be to God!!
Similarly, I believe those who, even today, lack patience and persistence and turn away, frustrated that being unable in interpret the riddles of the parables and the harder parts of the Holy Bible, fail to demonstrate their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let the final words be from the parable of the Sower from Luke 8:15, in which Jesus likens us to good soil, into which the seed of the Word of God has been sown. When, being of an honest and good heart we both hear the Word of God and keep the Word of God, then we too will, with patience, bring forth His fruit.