Our Sunday school teacher asked a good question during yesterday’s class:
“How many of you were told growing up that Jesus taught in parables because people are simply drawn to good stories?” Heads nodded. “Well, turn to Matthew 13,” Mark said. “And let’s see what Jesus had to say about the subject.”
It seems the disciples posed to their Master this very question regarding the purpose and motivation behind His parabolic messages.
“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given,” Jesus responded. “For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:11-13).
In other words, Jesus taught in parables because He knew nonbelievers were blinded to truth and were incapable of comprehending anything with great spiritual depth. Nevertheless, His storytelling drew them in and warmed their previously cold hearts.
Jesus then went on to say that His method and messages were fulfilling Isaiah’s prophesy, in which the Old Testament author quoted the Lord’s words to him:
You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.
Perusing today’s headlines two-thousand years later, I’m struck by the reference to dulled hearts, a telling descriptor and explanation for both the apathy and antagonism of those committed to upending culture’s norms and traditions.
If you’re like me, you often find yourself perplexed at culture’s coldness and wickedness. You shake your head in both disgust and dismay. You wonder how anyone could approve or go along with the evil. But the suggestion that they don’t see what you do or understand the consequences of the chaos explains a lot.
How else to make sense of an acceptance of child mutilation or abortion on-demand? What about a growing acceptance of illicit drugs, even though we know crime and death rise when we liberalize or legalize once-banned substances. Then there is the current trend towards decriminalizing prostitution, despite the fact that such a move increases incidents of sex-trafficking, abuse and exploitation.
Understanding the reason for such wickedness is one thing – but what to do about it is another.
As believers, we have both an obligation and opportunity to emulate Jesus’ teaching by engaging those whose hearts have grown dull. The Lord is ultimately in control, but He’s also gifted us with talents to counter the coldness. This is why Christian outreach is so critical. We don’t throw up our hands in exasperation – we use those hands to reach out and minister to those who are hurting and in need of help.
Jesus tells us He stands ready to heal those who turn to Him (Matthew 13:15) – and perhaps our witness and ministry will be used to elicit that turn. Effective engagement may look different for each person. Because we’re not all gifted in the same way, we’re not all called in the same way either. But the bottom line is God can and does use us to make a difference. What might we do?
The antidote to dullness is brightness. How well are we reflecting His love and joy? Yes, the burdens of this world are significant, but do we project the confidence and peace that comes with the promise of eternal life with Him? People are watching us – and through us, they may eventually see Him.
Take the time to have a conversation with a neighbor. Listen but don’t be shy about sharing your perspective. Volunteer. Teach, write, use your gifts and talents for good. Give as you’re able. And best yet – live a life that best reflects Jesus Christ.
Photo from Shutterstock.