Story time was over. The keel of the fishing boat ground into the gravel along the shore and the men stopped rowing. Jesus climbed over the side and paddled to the beach. As He and the disciples gathered their gear and prepared to go back to the house to rest, one of the disciples raised the question they had all been too shy to ask until the crowd dispersed.
“Why do you speak to them in parables?”
I think we get stuck in the Parable of the Soils.1 What I mean is that we spend so much time trying to decipher the analogies and apply them to our lives that we miss the core of what Jesus said. This is one of Jesus’ most important teachings because it answers the disciples’ question, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus’ answer is the key to hearing the voice of God and therefore the key to spiritual growth.
So, why did Jesus use parables? At first, His explanation seems cryptic:
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. . . . 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. . . . But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. (Matt. 13:11, 13, 16)
Every crowd listening to Jesus’ teaching contains two types of people; those who have functioning spiritual ears and eyes, and those who do not. Ears receptive to sound waves and eyes able to resolve light patterns are not enough. Spiritual sight and hearing happen when the heart understands, the mind perceives, and lives return to a healthy relationship with God (Matt. 13:14-15). The disciples were spiritually receptive; they could grasp the mysteries of the kingdom of God and change to live the kingdom lifestyle. Jesus used parables to see which people were in which group. The Parable of the Soils illustrates this essential lesson.
Every parable and truth about the King and His kingdom acts in the same way. Like a seed, it tests the soil of the heart. Many people hear God speaking directly to them, or through His followers, but only superficially. The truth is quickly snatched away from hard hearts. Difficult times, when temptation or opposition comes, shrivel it. Distractions steal all time and energy, hindering application. Only hearts that are like soft, deep, clean soil will apply the truth in such a way that life changes. Each time that Jesus concludes with the phrase, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” He means the ears of the will.
So, next time God drops a seed of truth into your life, will your will nurture it to fruition?
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- Calling it the Parable of the Sower doesn’t help. [↩]