A Reflection upon Mathew 13:10-16, with the focus on:
"Blessed are your eyes because they do see, and your ears because they do hear.
For truly I tell you,
many prophets and righteous people longed
to see the things you see but did not see them,
Or to hear the things you hear but didn't hear them."
This is the culmination of Jesus' response to His disciple's questioning of His reasoning for using parables when speaking. Those acquainted with the Scriptures [more importantly, the Gospel] are quick to pinpoint the main theme of Jesus' message and ministry: "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand."(Matthew 4:17) However, something which is much more difficult to comprehend is the reasoning behind the manner and method in which our Lord decided to expound upon the Kingdom of God: That is, through the use of parables. In order to better grasp the purpose of Jesus resorting to the use of parables, it seems fitting and best to first expound little upon what parables are.
In short, a parable is an extended metaphor or simile used to become a brief narrative, revealing an underlining theme and such can be related to what we would refer to as a proverb, only more expansive, deeper in thought, and thus more thought provoking. The usage of parables [or proverbs] as a method of revealing truths [especially spiritual truths] to help the reader/listener grow in discernment and instruction is evident throughout Jewish literature, and especially within the canon of the Old Testament, as king Solomon composed two volumes of writings consisting of proverbs and wise sayings with the intention for admonishing his sons and future kings: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The usage of proverbs is not a means of attempting to portray one's self as "super wise", but rather to convey truth in a short phrase or illustration that enables the listener/reader to apply it. An example of such would be as follows:
"The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool."(Proverbs 10:18)
The spiritual truth which Solomon reveals is simple enough: People who conceal hatred within themselves will inevitably resort to telling lies. Parables on the other hand, go far more in depth and require additional means to comprehend. We see God using parables as a means of speaking to His people predominantly throughout the book of Ezekiel, using the prophet to convey such messages as this:
"Son of man, pose a riddle and speak a parable to the house of Israel. You are to say, 'This is what the Lord God says: A huge eagle with powerful wings, long feathers, and full plumage of many colors came to Lebanon and took the top of the cedar. He plucked off its upmost shoot, brought it to the land of merchants, and set it in a city of traders. Then he took some of the land's seed and put it in fertile field; he set it like a willow, a plant by abundant water. It sprouted and became a spreading vine, low in height with its branches turned toward him, yet its roots stayed under it. So it became a vine, produced branches, and sent out shoots.."(Ezekiel 17:1-6)
To ensure not getting over encumbered in thought, it seems best to stop the parable here [but should you feel convicted to continue, I would urge you to open the Scripture for yourself]. However the point which I'm trying to make is simple: "What is going on?" And, "What does this parable mean?" This is precisely the response we ought to have. Those who think they know it's interpretation I would encourage to take a moment of reflection before continuing and I would even go to the extent of encouraging you to pray for divine inspiration and revelation, for it is written, "Do not interpretations belong to God?"(Genesis 40:8)
Through the context of the previous chapter, as well as the remaining verses of the chapter [Ezekiel chapter 17], the continuing insight which the Lord gives helps reveal the proper interpretation of the parable:
1. "Huge eagle" represents Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and its description described the brilliance of his military strategy and campaigns.
2. "Lebanon" refers to Jerusalem (as revealed in verse 12), which was often covered with large cedars.
3. "Cedar" refers to King David's dynasty- which had been established as a mighty one.
4. "Top of the cedar" is in reference to Jehoiachin who would be the one sitting upon David's throne whom King Nebuchadnezzar would carry away into captivity.
5. "Land of merchants" refers to the land of Babylon, which was a great center of commerce in all of Asia.
In short, the Lord gives Ezekiel instruction to pose a parable to the children of Israel in which He depicted the time when King Nebuchadnezzar would campaign against Israel, and this would result in Israel's king [Jehoiachin] being led away captive to Babylon, which was fulfilled in 597 BC [II Kings 24:8-16). For those who opted in attempting to uncover the parable themselves or depended upon "divine inspiration", compare your result to what God through the Scripture revealed this parable to mean. Did you "get it on the button"? Chances are: no. Yet this exercising of the mind ought to bring us to sobering realization for the purpose of parables: an absolute dependency upon those posing the parable for the proper interpretation of the parable. This naturally ought to produce another question: "Why did God resort to speaking in parables to Israel? Why didn't He just simply warn them plainly of the coming exile?" The answer: The hardness of Israel's heart. Harkening back to the calling of being a prophet, God says to Ezekiel:
"Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to the rebellious pagans who have rebelled against Me. The Israelites and their ancestors have transgressed against Me to this day. The descendants are obstinate [stubborn] and hardhearted. I am sending you to them, and you must say to them, 'This is what the Lord God says.' Whether they listen or refuse to listen- for they are a rebellious house- they will know that a prophet has been among them."(Ezekiel 2:3b-5)
Because Israel had grown so distant from God, He spoke in a manner that should have caused Israel to come to the realization of their dependency for the interpretation from God and cling to Him for the understanding, however they did not. Instead, Israel clung to the words of false prophets [which the Lord addressed in chapter 13] of whom it is written "follow their own spirit and seen nothing"(3b), "claimed, 'This is the word of the Lord!' when the Lord did not send them, yet they wait for the fulfillment of their message [the original Hebrew, being far more descriptive implies "cause others to hope for their word to be fulfilled"]"(6b), and worst of all, they "Seduce My people [that is, to "lead them astray"](10). How did these false prophets lead God's people astray? By their messages of false peace which they cited as received through divine revelation- "This is the word of the Lord!" The Lord- by means of Ezekiel, gives Israel a parable depicting their eventual exile as a means of leaving Israel without excuse: "I told you this would happen and warned you, but you refused to listen." It's also imperative to note that what the Lord warned Israel of through Ezekiel was by no means a "new revelation", but rather a re-iteration of what He warned Israel of in the Law given by Moses when discussing what would occur should they continued to walk in disobedience to the Law and statues therein:
"The Lord will bring a nation from far away, from the ends of the earth, to swoop down on you like an eagle, a nation whose language you won't understand, a ruthless nation, showing no respect for the old and not sparing the young."(Deuteronomy 28:49-50)
Very well, but how does his fit into the Gospel narrative and more importantly the ministry of Jesus Christ? Precisely the same reason: Israel's stubbornness and hard hearts. Like Ezekiel, Jesus was sent as a prophet to Israel [Jesus even refers to Himself as "Son of Man" throughout the Gospel drawing the comparison to Ezekiel] who did not change with time- they were still a rebellious house, still alienated from the life of God, and still stubborn and headstrong in their ways. Jesus began [and continued] His message proclaiming the soon coming of the Kingdom of God- which Israel eagerly awaited, thus drawing crowds to follow Him as they saw the accompanying signs which Jesus performed- casting out demons, healing the sick, raising the dead, etc. However, much of the Jews who listened had their own perception of what the Kingdom of God and the coming Messiah ought to look like- One who destroyed those who stood in opposition to Him, delivered Israel out of the hand of those who had authority over them, and establish His kingdom on the earth by which all nations would fall under subject to. Instead, they got a lowly carpenter's Son would prove to show a willingness to suffer at the hands of those who withstood Him, and who taught that His kingdom was not of this world [John 18:36] showing a separation from the desires of the world. Which is why Jesus expounded upon His public teaching method concerning the Kingdom of God by means of parables:
1. To reveal truth to those willing and eager to hear
2. To conceal truth to those whose hearts were not aright
Look back at the beginning of Mathew chapter 13:
"Such large crowds gathered around Him that He got into a boat and sat down, while the crowd stood on the shore."(2)
Now compare that to what Matthew [as an eyewitness] recounts after Jesus gives the parable of the sower:
"Then the disciples came up and asked Him, 'Why are You speaking to them in parables?"(10)
It was only the twelve disciples who inquired the Lord concerning His message, the rest of the multitude left either with a misinterpretation [as they relied on their own interpretation of what Jesus said], or with nothing whatsoever- which are one in the same, as our Lord puts it, "Whoever has, more will be given to him, and he will have more than enough; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him."(11) In doing so, our Lord shows the inevitable distinction between His disciples "To you it has been granted to know", and to "them" [that is, those outside of the Kingdom of God]. Matthew continues by saying that from that point forward, Jesus resorted entirely to speaking in parables during His public ministry [Matthew 13:34] as a means of sifting those who eagerly desired the Kingdom of God in heaven vs. those who followed after Jesus with the wrong intention.
Jesus finishes His explanation for the purpose of parables by revealing that those who have been enlightened to understand the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God were "Blessed" or privileged, above their unbelieving contemporaries because it has been granted to them to receive the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, but more than that- They are more privileged than the righteous and prophets who lived in the OT, because they get to bear witness to the hope of Israel unfold before their eyes, something those of the OT did not. To you it has also been granted, dear reader; to get to see Israel's promised Messiah revealed in Christ Jesus, and read His teaching concerning the values of the Kingdom of God in hopes that the presence of the Kingdom of God may be manifested in your heart. Should you find yourself reading the Gospel and reach a point in which you do not understand- do not lose heart, but rather in humility and sincerity acknowledge your dependency for Christ. In Mark's account, it is recorded that the twelve often had no understanding of what Jesus said, to the extent that they were afraid to ask Him for the meaning [Mark 9:32]! Yet that is what made the disciples differ from the rest of the crowds- an unhindered pursuit to understand and apply the mysteries of the Kingdom of God in their lives.
In closing, I would like to provoke your thought with a question- how has your interaction with our Lord Jesus Christ and His message of the kingdom of God impact you? Has it challenged your thought causing you to seek Him more? To those who cite being devout followers, in love I would ask more so- What depths of the wisdom of God [which is our Lord Jesus Christ] have you grown into since your conversion? Or, as the children of Israel during the times of the prophet Ezekiel, have we grown dependent upon false prophets and voices claiming to be mouthpieces of God, who follow their own spirit contrary to the Gospel and who attempt to seduce God's people with empty messages? A word of caution is advised- as a theologian once put it, "The Holy Spirit of God will always conform to the Word of God. He will never contradict it. Be sure the 'further insight' you find corresponds to the Word of God and not some other word. Paul reminds us that everything we need to be- everything God wants us to be- is revealed to us in His Word (II Timothy 3:16-17)."
Remember: It was for His teachings that many bore false witness against Him, men misinterpreting His words and actions which lead to His condemnation and death, all while He stood idle in silence. As another theologian said, "Jesus was not killed by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion- which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God's will- from their own."
Hopefully with a sober mind we might've come to comprehend the necessity of Jesus' Gospel message in our hearts and minds, and what yielding to it produces: the presence of God's kingdom values in our lives. Do not grow weary beloved reader, for it is with patience that the Gospel is able to produce fruits befitting the kingdom in your life. And although we do not have the privilege of being eyewitnesses to our Lord as He spoke and ministered on earth, we ought to strive to be like Luke the evangelist [who penned a synoptic Gospel account and the book of Acts]. Luke was not an eyewitness, nor was he a Jew- he was born in Antioch [present day Turkey] making him Greek [a Gentile, or non-Jew]. However due to his devotion to the Gospel and deep study of it and the letters penned by the apostles, testifies of:
"[Carefully] investigated everything from the very first... so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed."(Luke 1:3a,4)
I would urge you [though I have no dominion over your faith], set your heart to seek the knowledge of God and of our Savior Jesus, and meditate upon it in it's context so that grace and peace might be multiplied to you.