Responsibility of Knowing


The mercy of parables


Written by ANDRÉE SEU

October 3, 2011, 10:27 AM

Jesus gets into a boat and teaches a multitude of people by the sea (Mark 4). Let us assume that the audience is a mixed bag of the holy and profane; of believers, seekers, and mockers.

For after Jesus has told the story, the crowd disperses in many directions, no doubt going off to act out the parable in their own lives unawares. That is, some will scratch their heads and forget every word Jesus said (the seed on hard ground); others will be excited but the excitement will wear off (the seed that fell among thorns); others will chuck the faith when the going gets tough (the seed that fell on rocky soil); a subset of unknown size will hear and believe and keep growing (the seed on good soil).

And then there is a small group who will stay behind after class to talk to the Teacher (verse 10). They actually may have understood no more than the people who packed up and left. But one thing they have that the others don’t have is interest. Faith. They desire to know. And so it is to this select group that Jesus will explain “the secret of the kingdom of God,” because he is always looking for those who desire to know. (Hence the meaning of “to the one who has, more will be given” from Matthew 13:12).

Recently someone made an intriguing suggestion to me about the parables. He said that Jesus was merciful in not speaking plainly from the boat. The logic is this: the more knowledge, the more responsibility. The more clearly God reveals himself and his requirements to a person, the more obligation it puts on that person to act on that knowledge. (Paul makes this point in Romans 2:12-24).

Therefore, may not God in His mercy sometimes choose to withhold full understanding from someone who, at this stage in his life, would not be ready to act on it? If every person by the lake that day had been given fullness of light, he would be condemned for not acting on that full light. So Jesus mercifully minimizes their guilt by minimizing their understanding (See John 9:41).

I had always thought of the parabolic form as entirely negative, punitive, or even a withholding of grace. But it is an intriguing thought, and consistent with God’s character as merciful, that even in the otherwise negative concealment effect of a parable, Jesus would be showing grace, restraint, and mercy.