Understanding parables. 13:10-17

In the passage before us, Jesus gives us a clue to the function and therefore the interpretation of his kingdom parables. The crowds have failed to respond to a clear presentation of the gospel, so, in an act of judgment, Jesus preaches the gospel in riddles.

The passage

v10. The disciples don't understand why Jesus speaks to the crowd in parables, why he speaks in picture stories that seem to have no meaning, stories that are more like riddles. So, they ask Jesus for an explanation.

v11. The capacity to access the promised blessings of the covenant "have been given to you", people like the disciples, seekers who repent and believe, "but not to them", the religious elite or amazed crowds, people who do not seek, who do not repent and believe. Jesus' answer is that the blessings of God's coming kingdom, once hidden, but now revealed, are for seekers only. The good news of God's eternal kindness found in Christ is for those with a heart receptive to God, a broken and contrite heart, a heart open to God's mercy. The good news is not for those with a calloused heart, those who are disinterested. So, Jesus speaks in parables, in riddles, as an act of judgment upon those who have no interest in seeking God's mercy.

v12. Jesus supports what he has just said with a proverb, a kind of the rich get rich and the poor get poorer observation about life. This observation applies to spiritual things as well. An open and responsive heart that craves God's mercy, as opposed to a calloused heart closed to divine mercy, welcomes the good news of God's grace in Christ, even if hidden in a riddle, and thus receives divine grace abundant and overflowing. The calloused heart, unrepentant, unbelieving, is left with riddles and ends up losing everything.

v13. So, given the calloused heart of unrepentant Israel, Jesus preaches in riddles. This is an act of divine judgment which leaves the crowds seeing, but not seeing, hearing, but not understanding.

v14-15. The quotation from Isaiah 6:9-10 serves to confirm Jesus' use of riddle-like kingdom parables as an act of divine judgment upon a people of calloused heart. The point is, a spiritually dull people is no new thing. Isaiah's insensitive hearers chose dullness over devotion. They actually resisted God's word in case it drove them into the arms of their merciful God. They shut their ears "so that" they may not hear. Of course, the consequence of such behavior is that they were then given a word from God which they couldn't understand; "through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people."

v16-17. The disciples are blessed (by God) because they have seen and heard what God's faithful children in the past longed to see and hear. The prophets of old waited expectantly for the coming of the messiah and the dawning of the kingdom, so the disciples who have found both in Jesus are blessed indeed. For these seekers, these "little ones", the secrets of the kingdom are theirs to know.

Words of judgment

The scriptures reveal a pattern of judgment upon those who grow dull in their listening to the Word of God. Those whose ears are dull receive a dull word to make them even duller. It's as if the Lord says, "if you won't hear a clear word, then see what you can do with a confused one."

We are told that after his baptism, Jesus came preaching the gospel - "the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel." Later in his ministry we see him preaching the gospel in the form of mysterious parables about weeds and wheat, mustard seeds, yeast..... Even the disciples were unable to understand the meaning of these strange riddles. The crowds had failed to act on a clear word from God and so now all they got was a clouded word. The kingdom parables serve as God's judgment upon a people who have failed to receive his word of grace.

The seriousness with which God treats his word impacts upon the way we handle it when it comes to both nurture and evangelism.

Good Biblical preaching is rarely appreciated and for this reason a congregation can grow dull of hearing. Just as we get the politicians we deserve, so we often get the preachers we deserve. When a congregation fails to hear and respond to faithful expository preaching then they are liable to get waffle. Sure, it may be really interesting waffle; topical sermons, life-changing sermons that relate to people's work and family life, sermon's that scratch where it itches..... the brainstormed ideas of a fruitful imagination. Beware!

In evangelism, we are commissioned to communicate the clear the message of God's grace in Christ to the community at large. Having done this, there is no need to rework our strategies or refine our methods. We must proclaim and allow the Lord to bless.

Jesus reminds his disciples how lucky they are to share in God's last-days revelation. We too experience the full counsel of God; we share his mind. Yet, Jesus warned his disciples that those who grow dull in their hearing will end up receiving an unclear word to dull them even further. The same danger faces us, so let us actively listen to his word, praying always for its clear proclamation.


Suggest some practical ways the Lord my give an unclear word to a people whose ears have grown dull of hearing.