And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that
“they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?
(Mark 4:10-13 ESV)
“To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God.” Jesus hasn’t even really begun to explain the parables to his disciples. Yet he assumes they understand them. And when they look to be spoon-fed the interpretation of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus is incredulous. “This is basic stuff! You don’t get this? How are you going to get all the rest of the parables?”
We live in an age in which everyone wants to be spoon-fed pretty much everything. We love to watch TV and movies because the vast majority of it requires nothing of us. Each play hands us the message and the interpretation, whatever it may be. We really don’t have to think. We can turn on music on iTunes in such vast array that any of us can become an authority on what a particular style sounds like.
That’s great, or it seems great, when the job you do all day involves great amounts of thinking. But ponder for a moment what the creative process was that was going on for our ancestors at the end of their day. I’ll grant that many of them did jobs that required no emotional input. The mechanics of farming or manufacturing are not so much cerebral as they are physical. But to entertain themselves in the few hours of free time they had, these people created works of enduring art and music. Many of them produced voluminous correspondence on paper, and did it by lamp light. They built, carved, whittled, tinkered, sang, drew, and talked. And they did it while gathered around the fireplace because that was the only warm spot in the house.
Those of us who spend our evening watching TV are creating permanent dents in our couches and plaque on our arteries. The comparative virtue of spending the evening reading is that at least that requires a discipline that having media delivered to us does not. Maybe this is why my favorite time of the evening is when I’m cooking something complex. I don’t mind making a meat loaf and potatoes now and then, but I really get excited when I feel I’m being creative. I wonder if my cooking would move to a new level if I actually read some cooking books rather than just watching Bobby Flay do it on Iron Chef?
One of the reasons the church has become so Biblically illiterate is that for a generation now we have made it so that people don’t have to think in order to access the Scriptures. From the 1960s onward there has been a host of fill-in-the-blank Bible “study” material available that leads people in the most embarrassingly simple way to the “right” answers. God forgive us as leaders for requiring nothing of our people.
In preparation for worship last Sunday, I listened to a message from 1975 by Ray Stedman (Body Life). It was an introduction to Isaiah. At one point he asked the question, “How many of you have read Isaiah in the past two weeks?” There was a pregnant pause, and then Ray said, “One person? I gave you an assignment two weeks ago to start reading Isaiah. Now what are you going to say to him when you meet him in Glory about how much you read his book. Well, you missed something.” If most pastors said that from the pulpit today, there’d be a meeting of the Pastoral Relations Committee about an hour after church chastising the pastor for his heavy-handed approach and warning him that his job was likely on the line.
It seems to me that Jesus was more than a little ticked at his disciples when he had to explain the Parable of the Sower. That’s why he quoted Isaiah. He wanted his disciples to think. By the way, here’s an assignment. YOU find the reference. It is easy enough. If you can’t do it using a computer, then just start reading the book from the beginning until you find it.
Do you want the deeper treasures knowing God holds? Don’t just listen to preaching on Sunday morning and then go about your business. You should require your pastor to have a time after church where the message of the day is discussed. And your pastor should require you to attend it! Do you want to mine the treasures of the Scriptures? Don’t just go to a Bible study where they feed you the right answers. Question what you hear. Question what you read. Dig. Work. You live in an age where you have disposable time. Use it.