OK, I’m going to soapbox about one of my pet peeves. (And please excuse me if I get snarky). The other day, I saw it on a church readerboard. Then it popped up in my son’s children’s Bible. We’ve all heard it. The wording varies but the gist is, “Jesus told parables to help people understand things more easily.”
Sure, it sounds plausible. We have a hard time getting all this spiritual stuff. So Jesus wraps everything into a nifty story. And then, everything’s clear. Right?
Not so much. Let’s see what Jesus said when His disciples asked why He spoke in parables:
Because the secrets of the kindom of heaven have been given for you to know, but it has not been given to them…. For this reason I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand (Matt. 13:11, 13).
In other words, Jesus told parables so people *wouldn’t* understand. Mark’s gospel agrees: “And He did not speak to them without a parable. Privately, however, He would explain everything to His own disciples” (Mark 4:34).
This begs the question: Why do we perpetuate what scripture contradicts? Part of it has to do with our tireless PR campaign on Jesus’s behalf. The fact is, He’s awkward. No, He’s worse than awkward. He’s scandalous, embarrassing, out of step.
A folksy Jesus telling simple stories to fishermen and shepherds–now there’s a photo-op we can’t pass up. This is the nice guy public image we want for Jesus. (We’ll deal with the whole braiding the whip and assaulting the temple sales staff later. A public apology and anger management classes ought to do the trick…)
Jesus couldn’t possibly keep people from understanding spiritual things on purpose. That sounds mean. And a mean Jesus won’t do, especially in a world where not being offended is almost an entitlement.
Alright, alright. Let’s say you agree with me…for the sake of argument. Saying Jesus is an indifferent jerk doesn’t seem right either. I agree. Jesus may offend people but that doesn’t mean He’s offensive. We are much more likely to take offense than Jesus is to give offense.
So what do we say about Jesus speaking in riddles to keep people in the dark? A few years ago, I talked about this at a Christian school. I asked the kids if their families ever had news that was so precious they didn’t share it with everyone. Some things are too important or private to announce. It’s not a matter of meanness, it’s a matter of intimacy.
Jesus, I explained, feels the same way about the kingdom of God. He doesn’t discuss family business with any old person. If you want to be in His confidence, you have to build a relationship. I think Jesus is eager to share His heart. But He’s not going to grab someone off the street to pour His heart out to. Would you do that?
To the masses, Jesus speaks in parables. But He explains things to His disciples, those that hang out with Him. Really, this has broader application. Isn’t the Bible a giant parable to those outside the kingdom family? Heck, the Bible is often a parable to those in the family. But we have the relationship to ask Jesus about it. He is happy to help us understand (Luke 24:45-46).
So there. I’ll get off my soapbox now. And don’t worry. If I meet you in the street, and you say something about Jesus telling parables to help people understand, I won’t lose it or disfellowship you or anything. Above all else, we have to keep going after Jesus together, trusting that the Lord will clarify what is still a parable to us (Php. 3:13-16).