Please note: this is very much a thinking in progress. I’m still trying to work this particular passage out fully. What follows is just my personal wrestling with the text. Any insight is welcome
Mark 4 begins with the well-known parable of the sower. In fact, the chapter has quite a few parables in it – and some of the stuff Jesus says is hard to understand. The verse that strikes me is verse 22: For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light.
Now, when I read that, my first instinct is to think of the day of Jesus’ return: on that day, there will be no holding back. God – and everyone else – will see all of the skeletons lurking in my closet. We all hide things – but on that day, there will be no hiding them any longer. We all nurse secrets, on that day they will be brought to light.
Now, is that true? Yes. God will judge and all of our hidden sins and faults will be made clear. But is that what Jesus is saying here – or am I reading into the text? The latter, I suspect. For one thing, it doesn’t inculcate gratitude for Jesus’ saving me – it just invokes fear – what will people think? (Not that I’ll be thinking that when Jesus returns. I’m pretty horrid – but Jesus has saved me, and he will make me completely like him on that day. It’s something I’m holding out for. It doesn’t seem to gell with Jesus’ character for him to be throwing in a “hey there, everyone’s going to know how bad you are.” The message of the gospel is different – more of a “Hey there, everyone’s going to know how gracious I am!”)
So what is Jesus saying here in verse 22? I suspect that he’s speaking about himself – and the way that he was going about his teaching ministry. In verse 10, the 12 disciples (and others gathered around) asked him what the parables meant. He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: ‘When they see what I do, they will learn nothing. When they hear what I say, they will not understand. Otherwise, they will turn to me and be forgiven.’”
And then in verse 21-23, …Jesus asked them, “Would anyone light a lamp and then put it under a basket or under a bed? Of course not! A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light will shine. For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
It seems that Jesus’ speaking in parables is a bit like lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket or a bed – at least for “outsiders”. Which seems to not make sense! Why would Jesus come with the great news that God was wanting to redeem people to himself – that the kingdom of God was near – and then seemingly hide it behind difficult parables?
Well, Jesus says that it’s to fulfil Scripture – and he references Isaiah 6:9-10. But why would God want to hide the good news, the “secret of the Kingdom of God” from people? It’s what he did – verse 34 says that in his public ministry he never taught without using parables.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the kingdom of God has a relational dimension to it. If you want to know about God’s kingdom, you need to ask. You need to make it a priority to find out. Most importantly, you need to spend time with the king. It’s been said that if you’d be happy in heaven without Jesus there, you won’t be in heaven. Maybe that’s what Jesus is on about. He wants to give us more than information – he wants us to be with him. The kingdom of God isn’t just something we can intellectually assent to or aspire to. It’s defined by the presence of the King; and to understand it, we need to be with him.
Let me keep coming to, gathering around, Jesus. Let me know him and his kingdom better, understand more and more how great God’s love for us is; how great his mercy is. I think verse 22 isn’t about guilting us – it’s about us coming to realise more and more the magnitude of who Jesus is – who God is – and what he is doing, and what his coming means.
Lord, help me to understand better, I pray. Help me to ever desire to understand you and what you say more and more and more.
Jesus wasn’t at all shy about sharing what he meant. Verse 34b tells us that after speaking in parables to the crowds, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them. And in verse 11 he told his disciples (and all those who were gathered around) You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. And in verses 24-25 he adds “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.”
Jesus’ parables are like a… preview. He lights a spark, and then hides it. For those who are drawn to the light, what is hidden is made clear.