“When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of God’s realm of grace, but for those outside, everything comes 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.'” – Mark 4:10-12
It’s no fun being on the outside of the in group, not getting the jokes, missing the meaning that has all the members nodding in understanding. Is this really what Jesus has in mind? Keep some people in the dark, where they cannot see the clues to God’s gracious realm? Even more disturbing: is Jesus actually suggesting that the tactical value of parables is to prevent some people from repenting and receiving God’s gift of forgiveness?
Or maybe there’s another way to think about these verses.
Some Bible stories (most, probably) have different messages depending on your circumstances. If you are among the down-and-out and the hardscrabble people following Jesus, the ones whose protests get called “riots” preemptively, because they scare the landowners and leaders — you’ve been given the secret of God’s gracious realm. Parables require leaps of understanding, and Jesus knew that leaps are easier to take if the world has stripped you bare.
If you’re among the people who’d like to gain new insight, but aren’t quite ready to abandon the family business, and you can’t conceive of taking the pews out of the church — Jesus’ talk is just not going to make much sense.
Mark is on a mission to yank you out of your ways and into God’s ways. And don’t worry: he’ll be going after the inner group, soon enough.
We all have leaping to do: from where we are, across the parabolic chasm of mystery, to the ever-surprising Way of Jesus.
God, I could use help getting light enough to leap at your call, dance to your tune, jump into your arms. May today be the day. Amen.
John A. Nelson is the Pastor of the Niantic Community Church (UCC/UMC) in Niantic, Connecticut.