With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything. (Mark 4:33-34 NIV)
Throughout the years I have heard many definitions for a biblical parable. The most common is that it is an “earthly story with a heavenly message.” Yet, it appears Jesus’ parables were also intentionally evasive at times, causing his listeners to grapple with eternal truths and discover new perspectives. It isn’t that Jesus wanted the basic message of His Father’s love to be misunderstood, but rather that there were some characteristics of the kingdom that required purposeful pondering.
Do you remember when you were a kid and you misbehaved, leading your parents to send you to your room or make you sit in a chair in a forsaken corner of the house? Perhaps you protested, “What did I do? I didn’t do anything wrong!” To which they would reply, “You sit there a while and think about it and maybe it will come to you.”
It is true some of the most important lessons in life are lost to us because we are so wrapped up in activities, emotions and misperceptions we are hardly able to think, let along think in new ways. But the story part of a parable captures our attention, and as we spend time trying to discern its meaning, our spiritual senses resurface.
It is highly significant that Jesus took time to explain “everything” about His parables to His disciples. In fact, this makes me jealous. The gospel writers chose not to pass along “everything”, even though I assume Matthew and John were there to get the complete inside scoop.
Why did Jesus tell the disciples “everything” and why did He leave the crowds to understand “as much as they could?” Shouldn’t He have explained “everything” to everyone?
Remember, while the parables involve incredibly important kingdom truths, we must not understand them to be saved from sin. Therefore, Jesus was not putting anyone in eternal danger with His methodology.
I believe Jesus explained “everything” to His closest disciples for two reasons. First, these were the men who chose to follow Him everywhere and give up their lives with Him if necessary. They weren’t perfect, but they had already demonstrated a desire to know “everything.” Secondly, Jesus’ closest disciples needed to know “everything” about the parables because they were the ones who were going to lead the first generation church. It was imperative they understand the nature of the kingdom better than anyone, and have all of their questions answered.
In regards to the parables, sometimes we are the crowd and sometimes we are His closest disciples, depending on what the Holy Spirit has seen fit to tell us in the biblical record. But either way, we can’t get Jesus’ parables out of our head. They are profound and powerful. I suppose, even if we were taught “everything” we would still be trying to read between the lines.
Dear God, thank you for thing things I know and the things I must strive to know. In Jesus’ name, Amen.