They just didn’t get it. What had arrived on their doorstep was the Kingdom of God, soon to be consummated with the conquest of Satan and the destruction of Sin and Death. What they perceived was a really good prophetic teacher. For most going beyond that was impossible. Their eyes were blind, their ears were deaf and their understanding was rooted in Law.
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By Steve Hall
I don’t get it!
It’s probably not difficult to recall a situation in which a joke was told to some one, or to a group and at least one person, with a puzzled look, said: ‘I don’t get it.’ Now it’s always possible that the joke was what we call an ‘inside joke.’ That means that, in order to appreciate the humor of the tale being told, some sort of knowledge of a specific person or event was essential. Possibly the joke was missed because a play on words was not understood. Then, too, the supposed humor may be disregarded because someone fully understands and yet does not find the story line funny.
On the other hand, it’s possible to miss the point of the joke because one’s experience or culture has taught something out of sync with the humor the storyteller perceives. That was, in part, the rational for Jesus teaching in parables. For twelve hundred years the children of Israel had been guided by the Law. What Jesus taught did not disregard the Law, but went far beyond it. Neither was his teaching radically new; it had been preached by the prophets in the centuries before. To understand, appreciate and follow the teaching Jesus offered required a new frame of mind and a new attitude. That necessity is the most strikingly presented in the poetic pronouncements of God through the prophet Ezekiel.
“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
Something new was coming, but it was not yet there. In the meantime, the people were not yet ready to understand. Living by the Law was what they had been taught throughout the previous twelve hundred years. Without a new heart and a new spirit (both of which would enter the world at Pentecost) they would still be operating from the guidelines of the past — the guidelines which we call the Law. Jesus was, of course, well aware of both the perfection of his teaching and the limitations of the people. Consequently we get two somewhat contradictory statements:
“Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear."
“Knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you; but to the rest, they are made known through parables so that they may look but not see, and hear but not understand.”
The problem for the Jews at the time of Jesus can be better understood if we read the parallel verses from the Gospel of Matthew.
“This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
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. 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.'” (Matthew 13:13-15)
In other words: They just didn’t get it.
What had arrived on their doorstep was the Kingdom of God, soon to be consummated with the conquest of Satan and the destruction of Sin and Death. What they perceived was a really good prophetic teacher. For most going beyond that was impossible. Their eyes were blind, their ears were deaf and their understanding was rooted in Law. That’s why we hear Jesus talking about the futility of patching old clothing with new cloth or putting new wine into old wine skins. That’s why we hear Paul regularly referring to a ‘new creation,’ and putting on the ‘new man.’ We live in the Age of the New — specifically, the Age of the New Covenant where Satan, Sin and Death have no power over us. Yet, it is also the age where the past still lingers, the Law still appears to hold sway and we’re still afraid.
We should be particularly afraid of living in that past. Jesus himself gave voice to the danger:
“And no one after drinking old wine desires new; for he says, 'The old is good.' " (Luke 5:39)