THE DISCIPLES’ RESPONSE
Jesus’s ministry was in its infancy. He was so popular that He had to make escape plans from time to time to evade the crowds and to keep the purpose of His coming into focus. It would have been easy to succumb to popularity and just be a miracle healer at the beck and call of needy people. After all, wasn’t it His purpose to reach as many people as possible?
But there was another part of Jesus’s ministry that was equally important, that of training His disciples because they were assigned the task of continuing where He left off. Wasn’t that why He called men to follow Him?
What Jesus had to say as recorded by Mark is the perfect way to conclude His directions for this journey that His disciples were on, and we are on if we define ourselves as disciples of Jesus. This was not about how they did respond but how, as His talmidim, they should respond.
Jesus told a story about a farmer who sowed seed in his field. This is a matter-of-fact story about how things are. It makes no demands and needs no response. It prescribes no treatment. It is like a doctor’s diagnosis, telling the patient what condition he has according to his symptoms. It was up to each listener to figure out his or her place in the story.
Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty or even a hundred times. Then Jesus said, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’ (Mark 4: 3-9)
How did Jesus come up with a story like this? Was it a traditional story told by the rabbis or was it His own, a masterful diagnosis of people’s responses to the Word of God? As someone who had keen powers of observation and astute interpretation, coupled with His intimate knowledge of the Scriptures and understanding of human nature, He was able to tell a simple story to illustrate the way people dealt with His teaching.
Easy as the story was to understand, not even the disciples got the point. When they were alone with Him, they questioned Him about the parable, I can imagine them asking, “Rabbi, why do you tell so many stories. Why don’t you just teach them the plain truth?”
When He was alone, the Twelve and the others around Him asked Him about the parables. He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,
‘They may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven.’ (Mark 4: 10-12)
But this seems so contrary to what God really wants. Doesn’t He want everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth? Jesus’s response was both astonishing and puzzling.
Firstly, He explained that His stories had two different purposes for two different groups of people. The disciples were chosen for their potential to become authentic disciples and their willingness to embrace Jesus’s teaching and believe in Him. The other group – which Jesus called “those on the outside” – had shown by their response to the Word that they either refused to receive His Word, or their faith was temporary and conditioned by their circumstances.
He was actually teaching by parables to harden people in their unbelief! Why would He do that? These people had a choice. Every time someone heard the Word of God and failed to believe and live by it, his heart became a little harder and he was less able to hear and receive the Word. Jesus knew, as He taught the people, how this worked in practice.
His people had responded like this to the covenant at Mount Sinai. In spite of all the evidences of His love and care for them during their journey through the wilderness, they murmured and complained every time they were put to the test. Their rebellion was proof of their unbelief. His provision of manna and water, His protection against the dangers of the journey and the enemies that came against them, instead of growing their trust, only hardened their hearts against Him.
Secondly, Jesus explained the meaning of the parable. One kind of seed, four kinds of soil, four different responses to the seed.
(To be continued)
Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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