15 Feb 2009

Jesus and Parables

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Last night I read a certain passage that had always puzzled me, and for whatever reason it clicked into place on this latest reading. In Matthew 13 Jesus gives the “parable of the sower” to the masses:

Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. 8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

Now the part that had always puzzled me. His apostles ask him, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” and Jesus answers:

Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:

‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

Now maybe it was just because of a different translation I had used on earlier readings, but for whatever reason, I always thought that Jesus was saying that He was purposely hiding the true meaning of His words from the masses. And there definitely is some of that going on in the above, especially verses 11-12.

But at the same time, it is clear that these people choose to be “dull.” They are not willing to put in the effort to really understand the ways of the Lord. And thus, for these people, Jesus is speaking in parables to teach them as best He can, given the limited effort they will make to meet Him.

However, Christians need to keep in mind the other interpretation, namely that from the beginning of time, these people didn’t stand a chance of knowing the mysteries of God; it was not “given” to them.

Here we butt up against another of the thinking Christian’s conundrums, namely the reconciliation of free will (and hence moral accountability) with God’s sovereignty. If God designed every last quark of the universe, and everything that has happened since the beginning has unfolded exactly in accordance with His will, then it’s a bit weird to get worked up about the Pharisees, or to respect the courage of John the Baptist.

I will tackle this (humongous) issue in a future post. For now, let me tease you by pointing out that it makes NO SENSE to say, “I’m not going to worship this ‘Yahweh’ or accept this so-called ‘Jesus’ into my heart if we don’t have free will anyway, according to this worldview. That makes no sense.”

Now, the reason THAT statement makes no sense, is that it presupposes the existence of free will. In other words, if everything really were merely the blind laws of physics, with no higher “meaning,” then the people urging you to read the Bible are just globs of cells interacting in ways likely to produce copies of their DNA, and thus there is no “reason” that “you” (whatever that means) should respond one way or the other.

Let me try to make the point a different way: When I was an atheist, certain Christians in my college would say stuff like, “Well that’s so bleak. According to your worldview, I shouldn’t even look before I cross the street, because I can’t control my actions anyway. It’s an illusion to think that I can affect whether I get hit by a car.”

Now for you atheist readers, can you see why THAT was a ridiculous objection to my atheist worldview? The person was telling me that he was going to CHOOSE not to choose to strive for his survival, because in my worldview choice doesn’t exist. But that is a complete non sequitur. If free will really is an illusion, then “choosing” to look or “choosing” to dash headlong into the street, are equally illusory expressions of a collection of cells’ metaphorical choice.

Anyway, to wrap up this whole post, let me reiterate: Jesus used parables to get across a watered-down version of His true message, because the masses were not prepared–as His apostles were–to literally discard their old lives and follow Him 24/7. So they couldn’t possibly understand what His mission really was.

However, at the same time, Jesus was acknowledging that their decisions were preordained from before they were born. Part of the story God wanted to tell, involved most people not really appreciating who Jesus was even as He cured the lame before their very eyes.

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