Parables: Mark 4:10-12

10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that,
“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”

Mark 4:10-12 NIV

24th March, 2024: Paphos, Cyprus

A couple of quick points to make here. Firstly, whilst all of the Gospels refer to the twelve disciples, but there are several points where it becomes clear that there are more people following Jesus. Luke alone makes a specific reference to a much larger group of followers who were with Christ –  the 70 or 72 (i) (Luke 10:1-22). At this point in Mark’s gospel, and at this early stage of his ministry, we can easily miss a reference to a group of followers who had access to Jesus. Mark gives no indication of their identity, gender or number, but clearly there were more people around Jesus than simply the twelve. It was this larger group, from whom the 12 were probably selected. Along with the disciples, this wider group asked Jesus to explain about this and other parables.

The secondary point is this wonderful cameo scene, from which we should all learn,  of those who were closest to him asking for more explanation. Jesus was a rabbi. His role is to teach. Here he is accepting questions from and teaching, not the wider crowd, but his immediate followers.

We do well to remind ourselves that we come to the Gospel from a wholly different perspective from the crowd, and even the disciples, who were following and had the most immediate access to Jesus. Alongside the fact that we might think that we know, as it were, the end of the story, our understanding is influenced by 2000 years of reflection, interpretation and analysis of the life and works of Christ. Reflecting on the well known parable of the sower, it’s a fact that most of us have heard and been influenced by many sermons on, references to and applications of this and other parables. Yet for all that, we can often find ourselves reading Scripture but not necessarily understanding what we have read..

Quoting from Isaiah 6, Jesus makes clear that his intention at this point is to reveal the Kingdom little by little. There are those close to him who receive much more guidance and teaching and to whom much will be revealed. But there are others to whom the kingdom will be revealed through parables. When they  hear these parables, some will understand – but many will not. It is pretty much the same for us.

Lots of people who hear these stories today, come loaded with preconceptions and misinformation about Jesus and the Church. We live in a culture of soundbites, and this creates a readiness to take individual verses out of context and use them to support questionable or even false teaching. We can easily fall into this practice ourselves and need to guard against it. The practice of slow, prayerful reflection on every piece of Scripture is a one way in which we can refer back to Jesus, constantly asking him to direct our thoughts and explain the Scriptures to us.

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

(i) The earliest manuscripts variously record 70 or 72. Scholars cannot say with any certainty which is the original.

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