Something I’ve grappled with occasionally throughout my Christian journey has been Jesus’s parables. Some of them are quite clear, especially those he told earlier in His ministry. But then there are others that have left me scratching my head. For example, the Parable of the Shrewd Manager, recounted in Luke 16:1-15, has always been baffling to me.
But no, this blog isn’t going to try to explain it.
Instead, I want to think for a moment about why Jesus taught using parables–especially the confusing ones. I mean, some of them were so confusing that His own disciples had to ask Him to explain what they meant.
So, why did He speak in riddles? Was He trying to confuse people?
I don’t think so.
First off, using parables was a fairly common way of teaching in Jesus’s day. Also, parables tend to be earthly stories with heavenly meanings. They are vivid with details, making them easier to remember. This was important since most of Jesus’s original audience was hearing them, not reading them.
Anyway, when the disciples asked Jesus why he spoke to the crowds using sometimes confusing parables, He explained it to them. His answer can be found in Matthew 13:11-17:
He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:Matthew 13:11-17 (NIV)
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
“In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
“But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
So, what does that even mean? Here’s my interpretation: people whose hearts and minds are open to understanding Jesus and His parables will eventually be given that understanding. To people who have already decided not to try to understand Him, these sayings will never make any sense.
Does that imply some sort of judgment from God if you don’t understand all of Jesus’s teachings? Certainly not!
This is all about the posture of your heart. If you earnestly try to understand Jesus’s parables, it doesn’t matter to God if you don’t understand them. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand every word of the Bible.
I had a pastor who always described his conversion experience in this way: I gave as much as I understood of myself to as much as I understood of God. This always resonated with me. I would add to it that as you grow and mature as a person, and as you grow your relationship with God, your understanding of yourself and God should deepen. So, you always have more of yourself to give to more of God.
All of this is to suggest that you should not trouble yourself if you don’t understand everything Jesus says, or if not everything in the Bible makes sense to you. I think the important thing is that you understand that Jesus loves you so much that He sacrificed His own life to save you from yourself and the darkness of this cruel and wicked world. He made this sacrifice so you could spend eternity in paradise instead of hell. All you have to do is accept that gift by recognizing Him as your Lord and Saviour.
That’s all you really need to understand. But if you start there, in His warm embrace, and spend more and more time with Him, your understanding will increase over time.
Does this mean that someday everything in the Bible will make sense to us? Probably not.
But hey, that’s OK. On one hand, you’ll have all of eternity to ask Jesus to explain it all to you. Even the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. But on the other hand, once you reach heaven, you may be so overcome with awe from your first face-to-face meeting with your Savior that everything else falls away, including your questions and confusion. Nothing from your earthly life will matter anymore.
P.S., and now for something completely different–I’ve created a podcast to go along with this blog! I started with last week’s blog, but then I will probably go back to the beginning of this year and work my way forward. Meaning that it may take a couple months before this blog post finds its way into a podcast episode. But in case you’d like to check it out, here’s a link to the first episode on Spotify. If you prefer a different app to get your podcasts, please search for “Master’s Canvas”, or let me know your preferred way to get podcasts and I can let you know the link for it there. Thank you, and happy listening!