The disciples came and asked Jesus, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
‘“You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”
‘But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 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.’
I have always enjoyed visiting old churches and cathedrals. I enjoy standing in the places where, for centuries, faithful souls have prayed to and worshipped God. I enjoy looking at the different architectural styles that have been brought together to create one glorious whole. I like to find the evidence of how individuals down the ages have lived out their lives of faith. One of the thoughts that goes through my mind every time I visit one of those grand old buildings is about the many, many people who have been involved in the development of those buildings. What motivated them to work on massive building projects when two thirds of the population was being wiped out by the Black Death? What inspired them to find ingenious ways to fly in the face of political and religious pressure to change their styles of worship? What held them together when local disputes bubbled over into schism and violence?
All of these thoughts tie into our reading for today. The Jewish people had long looked for the coming of their Messiah, the Anointed One of God who would restore their former glory and primacy in the world. They had endured many hardships through hundreds and hundreds of years. And yet, they had remained faithful to the promise that the Messiah would, one day, come amongst them and save them. Through the passage of time many people made their small contributions to the story of Israel, never expecting to see the true worth of what they had said or done. As with the people of Israel, so with those faithful souls who each made their small contribution to each Christian community that we call a parish.
Jesus understood the workings of the human mind. Jesus understood that we struggle to grasp the true picture because it is painted on far too large a canvas for us to take it all in at once. In revealing the great truths of God, Jesus spoke in parables, in stories that engaged with our normal everyday lives. In doing so, he was not doing anything particularly new. In today’s reading he quotes from the prophet Isaiah, who wrote of the One who would come and teach a new lesson which would be difficult for many to understand.
And that is where we stand in the sweep of the Christian story. We become so obsessed with ‘our’ version of the Christian message that we stop listening, hearing, seeing and understanding. Recently, I wrote in my weekly letter to parishioners of the Parable of the Sower. In response to that letter I received eleven emails (an unprecedented number) which focused on explaining how agricultural economics works in the twenty-first century. Not one of those emails gave me the same explanation, and not one of them mentioned the true message of the Parable.
Let us set aside our human wisdom and let us listen, hear, see and understand the true message of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, our Lord and our Saviour.