Do you have a favorite book or story? Maybe one that was read to you as a child, or one you read to your own children? Can you remember all the intricacies of the plot, the details of the illustrations, the emotion of the story? Now, can you remember the same things about the sermon you heard last Sunday at church? Does it stick in your mind like a well written, beautifully illustrated storybook? Unfortunately, for many of us, the answer is no.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not a preacher-bashing, overly-critical, shut-up-and-let-me-do-the-talking kind of essay. No, this is simply a reflection on how Jesus taught, and how we might continue to live by his example.
Jesus had amassed a following of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people throughout the nation of Judea. This time, Jesus was teaching the crowds from a boat because the shoreline was too crowded. But he did not expound on theology or give an exegesis on Old Testament scripture. He told a story about a farmer. Perhaps his name was Old McDonald, but he wasn’t taking inventory of his animals. No, this farmer was sowing his seed and Jesus tells of the plight of the seeds that fell on the path, the withering of the seeds that fell in shallow soil, the choking of the seeds that fell among weeds, and the abundance of the seeds that fell on good soil. And that was the end of the story. Sort of open-ended, don’t you think?
Well, Jesus’ disciples thought so too. So they asked him, “why did you tell such a silly story to all these people?” Jesus reply was profound…
You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables,
For they look, but they don’t really see.
They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.
In other words, he’s giving the people the opportunity to interpret his teachings on their own, with a story that makes sense in their culture. He’s offering them something they can remember, so that they can continue to meditate on it. He’s making the ideals of the Kingdom relevant to all people. Those who were really listening to the story might not walk away with a deep knowledge of God, but I can bet you that they wake up at 3 am, face-palm and say, “ooohhh….I get it!”
I would much rather hear a story about God at work than just a lecture on someone else’s interpretation of scripture. I would much rather have an idea in my head that I can meditate on than a quote from a textbook. I would much rather rely on the Spirit to enlighten me than rely on human understanding.