The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables. Mark 4:11
The realm of the mysterious can both fascinate and frustrate people. Depending on your disposition or personality, mysteries can either represent challenges to overcome, or grace and wonder to be pondered. Albert Einstein, though a professed agnostic, once wrote: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He… who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”
The first followers of Jesus were puzzled by his parables and told him so. Jesus responded by referring to the secret of the kingdom of God. The word translated “secret,” musterion, means mystery. In ancient times mystery referred to hidden things, secrets that were given only to the initiated. Jesus’ teachings were not arbitrary mysteries, but revealed truths defining God’s rule in the world.
The early followers had two problems: their expectations and their readiness for the things of God. The disciples had expectations of what the kingdom of God meant, shaped by their religious and cultural upbringing. They expected the kingdom to sweep away their enemies, eradicate evil, and be a political and immediate kingdom. But as Jesus inaugurated the kingdom, it was just that, an inauguration—a beginning. The Roman oppressors (the enemy) were still around and evil still persisted. Jesus taught parables that revealed the multifaceted and mysterious reality of God’s reign breaking into the human scene. The kingdom is like a mustard seed, a piece of leaven, a merchant in search of fine pearls, a man who sowed good seed in a field, etc.
The second problem was their own heart and readiness for the things of God. There needed to be a readiness to embrace the things of God, a receptive capacity, a heart open to God. Only then would the secret of the kingdom begin to illuminate and instruct their souls. Before Jesus referred to the mystery of the kingdom, he said to his disciples: “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” (4:11). Some, because of the hardness of their heart, could not pause to wonder at the words of Jesus. Others, having “ears to hear,” began to understand, albeit slowly, the reality of God’s kingdom breaking into the world.
PONDER: To what extent are you open to embrace and be instructed by the mystery of the kingdom?
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•• PRAYER ••
O Lord my God,
teach my heart where and how to seek You, where and how to find You.
Lord, if You are not here but absent,
where shall I seek You?
But You are everywhere, so You must be here,
why then do I not seek You?
…Lord, I am not trying to make my way to Your height, for my understanding is in no way equal to that, but I do desire to understand a little of Your truth which my heart already believes and loves.
I do not seek to understand so that I may believe, but I believe so that I may understand;
and what is more,
I believe that unless I do believe I shall not understand.
Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093–1109 From The Complete Book of Christian Prayer
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Parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings. When Jesus spoke in parables, he revealed news about God’s kingdom. The parable of the sower explains how people will receive this news of the kingdom. Often the crowds did not understand Jesus’ stories. Even his disciples were confused sometimes. Jesus explains that there is mystery surrounding the kingdom and that some people will never understand.
Read Mark 4:1-11. The seed represents the Good News about God’s kingdom. Which of the soils do you feel represents you today? Are you open to hearing from God and living for him? What does it mean that the seeds planted in good soil produced a crop? What kind of crop are you seeing from your life? Why do you think some people choose not to listen to the message about Jesus?