I have been trying to pick up the Saturday edition of the Times & Transcript whenever possible to view the “Religion Today” column and see what is being published in the Greater Moncton Newspaper on Christianity. Yesterday’s edition featured an editorial by Brett Anningson who is a “minister passionate about progressive Christianity and relating faith to modern culture”. The editorial was titled “We do not hear parables in way they were intended”[i].
The editorial basically argued that people today don’t use or view parables in the same way as when Jesus used them. He states that “we do not hear them in any way close to the way they were intended.” Mr. Anningson further this by stating that “the church has softened the edges, has taken away the humour; has made them so they hardly affect us at all except to think they are like proverbs, words of wisdom—but they are not”. He makes the statement that Christians today “miss the impact” of these parables. Mr. Anningson’s concern in this short editorial is that the church seems irrelevant because we are too old fashioned and that we need to be “telling new stories, shocking people by holding up the familiar and the modern…”. He concludes his editorial by stating that “this is a call to reclaim the use of parables, not as familiar internet memes, but as rebellious interjection, shocking stories that change people. When we learn to tell it that way again, we will make a difference”. In essence, Mr. Anningson feels that we should be employing a message in an attempt to shock people for our message to be relevant. This is who he views the use of parables during the time of Christ.
Firstly, I’m not questioning Mr. Anningson’s argument that the parables shocked people especially the Pharisees but I believe that these are merely the effects of the speaking in parables and not necessarily the purpose. I can’t help but feel that Anningson’s understanding of the purpose of parables is wanting. It seems unfortunately very man-centered and void of an understanding of the Sovereignty of God. I don’t think Mr. Anningson really recognizes the purpose of the Lord Jesus Christ in speaking in parables[ii]. Why did the Lord Jesus speak in parables? What was His purpose in doing so?
The bible is quite specific on this point. The Lord Jesus had just spoken to a crowd the parable of the Sower when the disciples asked Him “why do you speak to them in parables?” (Matthew 13:10) Does it get clearer than this? The answer of the Lord Jesus wasn’t to shock them (although it did) with a message to be relevant to the culture of His day. His answer was as followed:
Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. 12 For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
The purpose was that it had been given to the disciples to know the mystery (secrets) of the Kingdom of Heaven but it had not been given to the crowd. The point of the parables was to inform them that only those to whom it had been granted understanding would comprehend these parables of the Kingdom of Heaven while those to whom it had not been granted would not understand. The Lord Jesus then explains this first statement a little further in v. 13 when He tells the disciples that the reason He speaks in parables was so that seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. These parables were in fact spoken as a means of condemnation upon the crowd and to demonstrate the privilege that these disciples had to have been given the understanding of these parables. Mark’s gospel is even more bold as to say To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12 so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.” (Mark 4:10-12) They would hear the words but it was not granted to them to understand them. The speaking in parables would hinder them from returning to God and be forgiven but to those to whom it was given they would see, hear, return and be forgiven. In Matthew’s rendition of this account, he quotes Isaiah 6 and the great encounter between God and Isaiah where Isaiah is commissioned to go and preach to the people. The apostle John gives us a New Testament interpretation of this passage in Isaiah in the 12th chapter of his epistle.
He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 40 “He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.” 41 These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.
The Lord Jesus explains the unbelief of the Pharisees with the quotation from Isaiah. It is used in the same manner as in Isaiah 6. John explains what Mark meant by “otherwise they might return and be forgiven” in that these men could not understand/believe because God had blinded their eyes, hardened their hearts for this very purpose. God would not give the crowd understanding of the parables so that they could believe!
The question my reader’s must be asking is “why”? Is this fair? Is it fair that He purposefully withholds this from some and grants it to others? The answer is firmly yes! The reason is that God has the right to chose to whom He will reveal His Kingdom and to whom He will not. (Romans 9:14-18). Nobody deserves His mercy and God is free to reveal to men His purposes and to others not give them this revelation.
If you want to see “shocking”, this shocked people in Christ’s day and certainly most people in our culture today. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Anningson, the parables were shocking and I wonder if it would perhaps shock him.
[i] I quote this section exactly like the newspaper had it and left out the term “the” prior to “way they were intended”
[ii] In all fairness to Mr. Anningson, the article was very short and sweet. I can appreciate there isn’t much room to elaborate on his point hence I hope I am not misrepresenting his editorial. It might be worthwhile to make a suggestion to Mr. Anningson and his colleagues who write this column. I appreciate that space is limited when writing such a column however couldn’t a few scripture references be presented in order for the reader to further their look at your topic?