The Reason for the Parables

What does this passage mean in the Catholic sense?

He answered them, “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that ‘they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.’” - Mark, Chapter 4 Verse 12

In a way, it sounds deceptive, but God is not one who can deceive or be deceived, and Jesus does go on to make plain the meaning of the parables to the disciples.

But dont we want souls to be converted and forgiven?


Jesus frequently used parables in his ministry, not to make things unclear to outsiders, but to provide a memorable illustrative point. In other words, parables were created not to confuse by to clarify. Usually there are points of connection within the parable that were identifiable to the people because it addressed something they were familiar with. So in this case, Jesus was using the image of planting seeds for a harvest to illustrate how the word of God creates faith and leads to repentance and good works. However, due to the hard hearts of many, though they hear the parables they either refuse to believe, or hear the word but the word doesn’t bring them to repentance or faith. Consequently, because the word is perspicuous (a clear proclamation), those who “look but don’t see” or “hear but don’t understand” are rightfully condemned by God. By the Holy Spirit, the disciples who are called and chosen by God, and have been granted faith, benefit from the gospel proclaimed by Christ.

I still remember being in high school and having to analyze poetry. I’d read a poem about a bird perched on a branch. And I’m like, “It’s a poem. About a bird. Sitting on a branch.” And that wasn’t the point-- the point was, the bird was symbolic of this, and the branch was symbolic of that, and there was a reference to this thing over here---- but I couldn’t grasp it, even after someone explained what I was supposed to be understanding.

We’re like that as well. We might ask for graces all day long, but if we’re not in a spiritual place where we’re able to absorb them, they bounce off of us, like rain bounces off of a rock, rather than being a nicely-tilled garden bed where the rainfall allows plants to sprout and grow.

So I expect that a lot of it was like that as well. Yeah, Jesus didn’t explain everything to everyone at the time. He gave the parables to a large number, interpreted some of them aloud, and personally interpreted others for a smaller number. But even if he had spelled out everything for everyone— it wouldn’t necessarily have made a difference, if their hearts weren’t receptive to not only mentally comprehend it, but to physically make a difference in their own lives.

Suppose I come from ten generations of people who barely scrape by, and my kids are dirty and ragged and ignorant of both book-learning and religious learning. When I’m judged on how I raised my kids, I’ll be judged in one way. Now, suppose I come from ten generations of solid, middle-class people, but I have a drug or gambling addiction, and my kids are dirty and ragged and I’ve neglected their education, both secular and religious. How will I be judged? Now, suppose I come from ten generations of affluent people, and I’m just flat-out lazy, and I squander all my possessions, and my kids are dirty and ragged and ignorant. How will I be judged then? Now, suppose I come from ten generations of clergy who tell families how to be families, and God himself tells me, “This is how you raise your kids to be the people I created them to be!” and I don’t do it, how will I be judged then?

So-- in a way-- it was also a mercy to them, to not have full cognizance of what they were rejecting, or the opportunity to willfully reject a great grace from God that has been rarely offered throughout all of history.

Verses 10 & 11 & 13 probably contain some clues:

Mk 4:10 And when he was alone, those who were about him with the twelve asked him concerning the parables. 11.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; …13. And He said to them, **Do you not understand this parable? …"**

Note that it wasn’t just the 12 apostles in the group that sought understanding. The group included others there “with the Twelve”. None of them understood the meaning of the parable (vs. 13). But they would receive understanding as Jesus explained it to them. It was “those outside” who were not interested enough to pursue Jesus and seek an explanation, or perhaps didn’t want to understand because it might mean they would have to reform and convert their lives in some manner.

The parallel passage in Matthew 13: 13-15 phrases the Isaiah quote in a way that indicates the reasons why they don’t understand (bolded part).

Mt. 13:14-15 With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says:
‘You shall indeed hear but never understand,
_ and you shall indeed see but never perceive._
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
_ and their ears are heavy of hearing,_
_ and their eyes they have closed,_
lest they should perceive with their eyes,
_ and hear with their ears,_
and understand with their heart,
_ and turn for me to heal them.’_

They don’t want to hear/see/perceive/understand because they might recognize their need for healing and they don’t want to be healed.

Jesus said in the Gospels it’s so those with the gift of knowledge will understand but those who already continuously ask for more signs and are hypocrites will remain hypocrites

I believe it leads to better understanding. Take the lesson, applied to something I’m familiar with & I’m able to understand something truly beyond my understanding. Of course I need a teacher to say this pertains to that.

I don’t need to be a theologian. Jesus explains to the 12, the 12 explains to the bishops, the bishops explain to me.

One interesting point along the lines of my question is Matthew 3:7-8…

When he (John the Baptist) saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.

It’s not Jesus speaking in that quote, but the intent behind John’s question seems to be similar to the last line of Jesus’ quote in the parables.

However, John’s spiritual direction (and heavy admonishment) in the last line is a good suggestion on how some of the bad guys should have repented. It wasn’t just a question of baptism for some, but a much deeper proliferation of a genuinely good will.

Jesus may have been trying to educate and evangelize some people, yet “weed out” (as we say today) half-hearted people, who may have eventually corrupted his intentions (in founding the church).

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