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The Purpose of the Parables

During our Monday night reading in Mark 4–5, we discussed the purpose of parables. I asked why Jesus taught that way and one of the kids gave an explanation that is common: “Jesus taught with simple stories so people could easily understand what he was saying.” Here is what is interesting about that explanation: it is the direct opposite of what the scriptures teach.  

Jesus tells this disciples they were allowed to know the secrets and non-disciples would receive parables. That means Jesus used parables to keep some people from hearing. He even references a passage in Isaiah where God intentionally tells Isaiah to speak in a way that some will not hear: 

And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”” (Isaiah 6:9–10, ESV) 

Back in Mark 4:33–34, it again tells us that Jesus used parables as a way of keeping some people from understanding while allowing others to understand. That is contrasted with the disciples who receive private explanations that were more clear. Parables weren’t taught by Jesus so everyone could easily understand. He used parables in order to keep some from understanding. 

Why? Why would Jesus make this change? It is interesting that this change comes after Jesus is accused of being a demon and having an unclean spirit (Mark 3:22–30). It is in that context we see the word parable used for the first time by Mark. It seems that this was Jesus’ response to the accusation. 

To see this as an appropriate response, we can go back to Psalm 115: 

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” (Psalm 115:4–8, ESV) 

The Psalmist says that those who worship idols become like them: unable to see, hear, speak, smell, and walk. This helps us understand Jesus and the parables more clearly. Those who diligently sought the spiritual teaching of Jesus could clearly see his teaching through the stories He told. And those who were blinded by some allegiance other than serving Jehovah, would never see the spiritual truths He presented. The key to understanding the parables is having heart that can hear what Jesus is saying. 

That is the question we should all ask: does my heart hear the teachings of Jesus? Or have my ears become dull and my heart calloused? “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”