And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about 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, 12 so that
“‘they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”
13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” – Mark 4:10-20
One of my favorite Youtube videos (other than the failed rocket launch videos that I watched with my grandson last summer) is of Monty Roberts, the original Horse Whisperer. If you take the time to watch one of his join up videos you will see him taming a previously-wild horse, and having it follow him around the pen, its nose on his shoulder – all within 30 minutes! He sends the horse away for a long period of time until he sees signs of submission which very soon give way to an incredible connection between himself and the horse. It is done without any violence or forcing of the horse in any way. It is obviously an art. It is also telling: there are times to offer a sugar cube, and times to make the horse simply want to connect with you. Monty does not break horses, he connects with them.
I don’t believe Monty got his approach from Jesus, but he might have. Certainly we can learn a thing or two about how to connect people to Jesus by watching his example. He doesn’t break people; but he does seek to bring us to a place of submission, or better yet, a place where we can admit that we are in need, and that God, not us, is in charge of all of life.
That is at least part of the reason Jesus tells parables. There is a purpose behind his approach to people. Part of it is surely to cause a bit of intrigue; to challenge people to figure out what he is saying and what he is all about.
There is a bit of irony, also, in Jesus’ quote of Isaiah. It is as if he is speaking for those who want nothing to do with Jesus and his word, truth, and grace. In spite of themselves they will not turn, repent, and be forgiven – even though that is truly what they need. Cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face is a saying that comes to mind.
But the parable offers enough intrigue to engage, making people wonder what Jesus really is saying. In studying parables of Jesus’ day, we also discover that Jesus used common themes and symbols. In the end of each story, however, he did a Crazy Ivan, and changed the meaning or moral of the story. It would leave people wondering, “What, exactly did he say?!?”
But when the word catches hold, takes root, and grows the results are beautiful to behold. This is God’s ultimate desire: that we hear the word, receive it into repentant hearts, believe the word, and bear fruit. Horse Whispering is another way of thinking about God’s invitation and challenge to us: Believe in Jesus, and bear fruit for his glory and our neighbor’s good.