Today’s text repeatedly presents Jesus as encouraging his audience to take special care to listen so as to perceive his message. His repeated admonitions are an indication that he realized how readily we perceive things in a distorted manner. In recent times we possess detailed scientific evidence indicating the various factors contributing to such a subjective experience as frequently happens. Modern neuromolecular biology has been able to demonstrate in elaborate detail the variety of pathways that give rise to our human perceptions. What we regularly interpret as obvious facts are not solely passive responses to objective happenings, but responses to events that are, in varying degree, colored by previous dispositions, memories, images, values, ideals, and body states among other personal interior factors. To anyone who speaks to an audience composed of persons with rather widely different interests, it is not unusual to receive responses that presume he stated views quite opposite to what he actually said because it was heard differently. Quite different reactions are put forth to the very same statement. Such responses when negative are not always deliberate acts of opposition, but rather often unconscious, sincere resistance to what is perceived as a threat, a criticism, of questioning of a favorite value, among other things.
Jesus encountered such audiences from the beginning of his ministry, and was quickly and keenly aware of the problem such a group posed. He developed a style of preaching that took these facts into account, and explained the situation to his closer disciples. “To you the mystery of the reign of God has been confided. To the other outside it is all presented in parables so that will look intently and not see, listen carefully and not understand lest perhaps they repent and be forgiven.”
The same process continues on today on the part of those who read or hear the parables Jesus employed. Every imaginable reaction is given expression, not only to the content of the parables but as well to the person of the Lord. Indeed, quite regularly, and one might venture to affirm, inevitably, how one hears and understands the images used depends on the opinion one forms of Jesus himself. As different as the parables are from one another, yet they have one point common to all: God’s presence is active in the ordinary things of nature and in the activities of daily life. His action can be perceived if one is properly disposed, and constitutes the beginnings of his reign. The effect of our Lord’s preaching is to put us in the place where we must make a choice to belief him and his word or not, whether aware or not of the implications.
One of the clear implications is that understanding is a gift of God. To grasp God’s purpose and its nature as belonging to another realm require receiving such light as unmerited gift. Mark throughout his Gospel shows it is not the privilege of an elite, for the apostles themselves failed to understand till after the resurrection. This parable is followed by a series of sayings of our Lord that state clear that all are given the opportunity to find the hidden light buried in the parable. “Let him who has ears to hear me hear.”
Making fresh contact with the working of God in his world that we move in every day, is the invitation we receive as we hear this parable today. Nature and history, society and the inner world, are replete with traces of God’s reign and of his nature. It requires our choice, repeatedly made and faithfully adhered to, for us to discern it. This is the work of the heart, or the inner person. It is made fruitful by the mercy and grace of the al-loving God to whom Jesus reconciles us by the sacrifice he renews here at the altar as we celebrate this Eucharist. May each of us profit fully from this grace now offered to us.&
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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