A reflection on Matthew 13:10-17 for Sunday, August 8, 2021 at Mosaic Baptist Church
Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’
Matthew 13:10-17 (NRSVA)
Perhaps it was something of a surprise for the disciples to hear Jesus teaching the crowd through this strange skeleton-story. Given that Jesus freely offers his students an explanation of the parable immediately following this reading, we may assume these followers of Jesus needed some help to ‘Hear then the parable of the sower.’ (Matthew 13:18).
An explanation of the parable is not, however, their first concern. Jesus’ teaching initially prompted a broader question: ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ For these students this seems like an unclear method of communication fraught with the potential for misunderstanding. Perhaps it is fair to say that Jesus is not being as plain with the crowds as he is with those closest to him.
Parables, however, are not a strategy used without reason.
As we have seen, it is unlikely that everyone gathered on the shore to hear Jesus’ teaching had pure motives. Indeed, the parable that surrounds this moment of explanation makes this clear. Some hearts are hard, some fearful, some worldly, and others – open.
As Jesus explains, it is to these open hearts that ‘more’ will be revealed. Openness begets openness. Hard and closed hearts beget hard and closed hearts. When it comes to Jesus’ parables, those who listen carefully will find abundance. Those who do not will find they have even less that when they started.
How we listen is vitally important to what we hear!
For Jesus all this is a fulfilling of the prophet Isaiah’s God-predicted frustration. Isaiah wanted to go. ‘Here I am; send me!’, he insists (Isaiah 6:8). God immediately articulates the challenges that will be Isaiah’s as a result:
‘…‘Go and say to this people:
“Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.
Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed.’’ (Isaiah 6:9-10)
Through Isaiah, God will speak. The people, however, will be unwilling to listen.
It is easy to see why the parable of the Sower surrounds this explanation. It reminds us that the Kingdom’s grace and generosity are expressed liberally and that this does not translate into understanding in all who hear. After all, some who listen also have their hands over their ears!
Parables, however, have a way of getting past our defences. They are easily remembered. They pique our curiosity. They have a habit of surfacing in our minds at the right time. Like a good riddle, they are difficult to let go of.
As a result, these stories linger – and are able to be heard again when our ears are open.
Have you ever had a parable speak to you in a new way at the right time? How did your openness contribute to this? How did the Spirit of God contribute?
How do you experience the difference between being told something is true, and discovering that same thing is true? How do parables facilitate discovery?