Eventually everyone will understand Jesus’s parables.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 August 2021

Mark 4.21-25.

When Jesus explained to his students how parables work and why he uses them, he told them this.

Mark 4.21-23 KWL
21 Jesus told them, “Does the light come in so it can be put under a basket or under the couch?
Not so it can be put on the lampstand?
22 It’s not secret except that it may later be revealed.
It doesn’t become hidden unless it may later be known.
23 If anyone has hearing ears, hear this.”

Too often Christians quote this passage as if it applies to every secret: Everything we say in secret is gonna eventually come out in public.

And y’know, Jesus did say something like that, in Matthew and Luke. But he did so in a different context. There, it was part of his Olivet Discourse, his last talk to his students before his arrest and death. At the time he spoke about when people persecute Christians for proclaiming the gospel, and how their evil would become public, in time. And all Jesus’s other, private teachings would also become public, in time. Everything becomes public… in time. The truth will out.

Matthew 10.26-27 KWL
26 “So don’t be afraid of your haters, for nothing has been covered up which won’t be revealed.
Nothing is secret which won’t be made known.
27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light.
What you hear in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.
Luke 12.2-3 KWL
2 “Nothing undercover exists which won’t be revealed.
Nothing is secret which won’t be made known.
3 As much as has been said in the dark about it, say in the light. It’ll be heard.
What was spoken in your ear in an inner room, will be proclaimed from the roofs.”

But that’s a whole ’nother lesson, and today I’m only discussing Jesus’s parables. And in Mark’s context, Jesus was only talking about his parables. Not everything.

Yes, Mark’s wording is the same as when Jesus taught about the light of the world:

Mark 4.21 KWL
Jesus told them, “Does the light come in so it can be put under a basket or under the couch?
Not so it can be put on the lampstand?”
Matthew 5.15 KWL
“Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket,
but on the lampstand, and it shines on everything in the house.”
Luke 8.16 KWL
“Nobody who grabs a light covers it with a jar, or puts it under the couch,
but puts it on a lampstand so those who enter can see the light.”
Luke 11.33 KWL
“Nobody who grabs a light puts a cover on it, nor under a basket,
but on the lampstand so those who enter can see the light.”

And again: Whole ’nother lesson. Jesus had no trouble using the same metaphor to teach a bunch of different things. The problem is we presume he’s teaching the same thing; that parables are secret codes. They’re not. Context, folks; the parables are always properly interpreted in context, same as the rest of the bible. There is no cryptography key which unlocks all the codes the very same way. That’s gnosticism, not to mention lazy thinking.

Nope, the reason Jesus said these things in Mark was ’cause he wanted his students to know that this bit—

Mark 4.11-12KWL
11 Jesus told them, “God’s kingdom’s mysteries were given to you.
To those outside, everything comes in parables.
12 Thus seers might not see—and realize.
Hearers might not hear—and be forgiven things.” Is 6.10

—is meant to be temporary. In time, outsiders get to understand what everything means. But when Jesus first shared these parables, it wasn’t yet the right time. His hour had not yet come.

Who has hearing ears?

A term Jesus repeated a lot when he shared parables, is about seeing eyes and hearing ears. It’s not a mystical ability solely granted to elect Christians. It’s the ability everybody has—seriously, everybody—to pay attention and really listen to what Jesus is saying. Assuming we pay attention.

True, Jesus said his parables are only for insiders, not outsiders. Mk 4.11 Thing is, anybody can become an insider. The gospel is for everybody. 2Pe 3.9 What makes people outsiders is their unwillingness to listen, repent, believe, and be saved. If they did that, God’d accept them. Mt 13.15 If they don’t, God’ll even encourage them to stay dense, Jn 12.40 lest they realize what’s really going on—and fight it.

’Cause it does happen. Jesus’s parables are so easy to figure out, various antichrists figure ’em out… and then mock his lessons, and mock the Christians who follow ’em. Jesus, or Christians, the light of the world? They don’t think so. God’s kingdom is like seeds, like fields, like pearls? Again, they don’t think so. They despise Christians and don’t trust Jesus; stands to reason they don’t think Jesus’s parables have anything substantial to ’em.

Jesus fully understands human psychology. The fact his parables present humanity with something of a mystery, guarantees they’ll pique the interest of certain people, and we’ll delve into these mysteries and try to understand them. And him. And his kingdom. True, some of ’em go overboard. But plenty of ’em learn to follow Jesus by them.

The down side? Plenty of people assume every mystery is beyond them, so they won’t bother, and remain dense and ignorant.

Measure for measure.

Right after Jesus brought up the fact we don’t stick lamps under the couch, he made this statement about having stuff measured. Which again sounds just like a similar thing he taught about not judging by double standards. But again, in Mark’s context, it’s not about double standards. Still about parables.

Mark 4.24-25 KWL
24 Jesus told them, “Look at what you’re hearing.
The measurement you measure with, will measure you—and add more to you.
25 For whoever has, it’ll be given them.
Whoever doesn’t have, what they do have will be taken away from them.”
Matthew 7.2 KWL
“For you’ll be critiqued by the very criticism you criticize with.
The measurement you measure with, will measure you.”
Matthew 13.12 KWL
“Whoever has, it’ll be given them; it’ll overflow.
Whoever doesn’t have, what they do have will also be taken from them.”
Luke 6.38 KWL
“Give, and it’ll be given you:
They’ll pour a good measurement, packed in, shaken, overflowing, into your apron.
The measurement you measure with, will measure you again.”
Luke 8.18 KWL
“So watch how you listen. Whoever might have, it’ll be given them.
Whoever might not have, what they think they have will be taken away from them.”
Luke 19.26 KWL
“I tell you to all who have, it’ll be given.
From those who don’t have, what they do have will also be taken away.”

People interpret these verses from Matthew and Luke’s contexts, and figure it has to do with double standards, or generosity and our lack thereof. They miss Jesus’s initial statement in verse 24: “Look at what you’re hearing.” Pay attention. You only get out of it what you put in.

That’s the reason outsiders don’t understand the parables, and don’t care to. They don’t wanna put in any effort at all. They want us Christian teachers to interpret the parables for them, spoon-feed ’em all the answers, and then they can move on to the stuff they prioritize more. Whereas these are lessons about God’s kingdom—and therefore what they oughta prioritize most.

Put in some effort—even a small amount—and we’ll get a whole lot out of the parables. Put in little, get little. And in fact those answers Christians get spoon-fed to them?—they won’t sink in. They’re those people in the Four Seeds story who get distracted by the weeds of life. No, not like those people. Are those people.

There are also those Christians who figure since Jesus taught on the kingdom in story form, in parabolic form, using “fables” instead of reality (and I should point out these aren’t properly fables, ’cause they don’t involve talking animals) they’re to be taken lightly, not seriously. Or that Jesus’s analogies are actually apocalypses, and either we’re never gonna understand them, or they’re all about freaky End Times stuff. Hence these people are either putting very little into their measuring-basket… or they’re filling the basket with junk, yet expecting it to sell as if it’s solid gold.

God plans to use our low (or stupid) standards to determine how much (or really, how little) we should be rewarded. If we turn Jesus into some hippie who’s into happy thoughts instead of a real-world lifestyle of grace and peace, we won’t be rewarded with much, if anything. We might even be penalized: “What they do have will be taken away from them.” Mk 4.25 We’ll enter God’s kingdom, but with empty hands. Paupers on streets of gold.

But God would much rather be generous with us. If we make some effort, even small, God’ll add more. If we apply vigorous standards to how earnestly we strive to obey Jesus, God’ll be even more gracious than we ever could be. He wants to over-reward our efforts. Of course that means we’ve gotta make those efforts!

So don’t be afraid to tackle Jesus’s parables. Study them. Learn from them. Double-check your interpretations with those of us who are likewise trying to follow Jesus. Apply them as best you can.

Don’t let your ears stay stopped up, your eyes stay closed, your mind stay fallow, and your heart stay hard. Jesus didn’t put his lamp under a bucket. He left it for us to see by.

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