Summary: By teaching in parables, Jesus simultaneously revealed truths to his disciples, and concealed truth about himself from those whose hardened hearts had already rejected it.
In preparation for todayâ€™s homily, I went to Amazon on the internet and punched up all the titles they had with the word â€œparableâ€ in them. I got about a thousand hits. Next, I requested a listing of all the titles they had with they subject keyword â€œparable,â€ and I got about 1,500 more titles than I had before. Finally, I went to an internet site that helps to locate books which are no longer in print. I repeated the same exercise, and I got 10,000 titles with the keyword â€œparableâ€ and over 20,000 titles with the word â€œparableâ€ in the title.
Amazing, huh? Iâ€™ll bet you didnâ€™t know that parables had generated a minor publishing industry all by themselves. Of course, not every book with the word â€œparableâ€ in the title is an exposition of Jesusâ€™ parables in the gospel. One title that came up read like this: Cranks, Knaves, and Jokers of the Celestial: Chinese Parables and Funny Stories. But, if you try this exercise, you will find that almost all the books with the word â€œparableâ€ in the title are somehow connected to Jesusâ€™ parables in the gospel.
Ninety-nine percent of these, of course, are an attempt to expound the parables, or in the case of the parables which Jesus himself interpreted for this disciples, to apply them to some current situation. What most of them do NOT broach is the question which the disciples themselves asked Jesus. WHY are you teaching them in parables?
The disciples very likely were NOT trying to get an explanation out of Jesus. Their question was very much like the question that wives ask their husbands when they say â€œWHY did you do THAT?â€ They donâ€™t really want to know, you see. They ask the question in order to say, â€œStop DOING that! Itâ€™s NOT helping!â€ And, I suspect this is what the disciples were about when they asked Jesus why he was teaching the crowds in parables. After all, even THEY didnâ€™t understand Jesusâ€™ parables. You know they must have been concerned about all these people being as confused with Jesusâ€™ teaching as they were.
Jesus, however, took his disciplesâ€™ question at face value and answered it. And, as he did so, he told us things that donâ€™t get put into books about parables very often, because theyâ€™re ideas that are not particularly confortable, and book publishers donâ€™t usually make much money publishing books that make the book buyers uncomfortable.
So, letâ€™s turn out attention to Jesusâ€™ answer to his disciples questions and learn from him what we will not very likely learn from a book on parables.
Jesusâ€™ answer is quite straightforward and to the point. He speaks to the crowds in parables because of two things: First of all, he says that it has been given to the disciples to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. But, to the crowds, it has NOT been given to them to know these things. Jesus doesnâ€™t immediately identify the one who is doing the giving and the withholding â€“ but from the larger context that person must surely be Jesus Himself. For, for when his disciples ask him, he gives them an interpretation of the parables theyâ€™ve asked about. As far as the crowds are concerned, however, we have no record that they were pressing Jesus to explain himself. Mostly, they grumbled and complained that he was obscure and confusing, and the religious authorities no doubt had a hey-day smearing Jesusâ€™ reputation with these observations.
A parable, you see, is a two edged sword. Simultaneously, it can do two contradictory things.
On one hand, a parable can reveal truth. It does this by sketching out a parallel between the truth to be revealed and some commonly understood principle, or event, or process. Last Sunday, for example, when we looked at the Parable of the Tares, we saw Jesus telling a story about a field which was sown with wheat, and an enemy of the farmer following afterwards to sow tares among the wheat. As far as the story goes, it is understandable on its own terms. But, as a parable, it does something else â€“ it reveals something about the kingdom of heaven that Jesus wanted his disciples to understand.
On the other hand, the fact that Jesus revealed this truth about the kingdom of heaven with a parable shows us how a parable can not only reveal something, it can simultaneously CONCEAL something. The things on Jesusâ€™ mind were truths about the kingdom of heaven; but he speaks those truths in the form of parables â€“ so the parables actually conceal what it is that Jesus is talking about. Parables both reveal and conceal, and they can do these contradictory things at the same time to the same audience.