We don’t all understand the joke.
The punch line comes and we nod, waiting for a bit more information, mouth slackly open, whilst the comedian slithers to a halt and rolls his eyes.
Some fell on stony ground.
Sometimes we don’t get it because we’re not listening correctly, or we’ve been distracted by something – or we didn’t realise that there was something to “get.”
Or we’re just a bit, uh, slow.
And what happens then? All we’ve received is a bunch of words and it’s frustrating for everyone, speaker and hearer alike.
Someone pointed out to me recently that when God spoke audibly (in John 12), some mistook the noise for thunder; others recognised a kind of supernatural moment (Did an angel speak?), and only one or two correctly heard the voice of God.
And when Jesus spoke about the kingdom in story form, some got the story and some got the point.
And Jesus explained: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.”’ (Luke 8:10)
Jesus wasn’t being deliberately obscure. On the contrary, the stories were told to raise awareness, stimulate curiosity and provoke response. It’s what preachers do.
Eugene Peterson said almost the same thing: ” I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight.”
But why do that? Why not just speak plainly, Jesus?
Because, just like a joke, the search for meaning is part of the meaning itself! It has to be discerned, not swallowed like a pill.
This is what Paul meant, when he said “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor 2:9)
God has prepared “things” for those who love Him, but they can’t be intellectually fathomed out. They can only be spiritually discerned. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. “(1 Cor 2:14)
Lord, I want to “get the point” and to discern “secrets of the kingdom” in the day-to-day stuff of this day. As I wait before you quietly, let me learn to distinguish your voice from other distracting noises, and let me be responsive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting.
In Jesus’ name.