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Two-tiered parables

Thursday, 1 March 2018 at 20:38

Mark on Dr John Dunn. In Jesus’ parables understanding was founded upon an aspect of the story that remained undecipherable without the key being given. The key was only to be made known to the inner circle, as Jesus himself made clear. When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, ‘The secret of the Kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding’. (Mark 4) For each of the components of a parable there was an analogy. The key to drawing the parallel was given. Without it the analogy remained unknown and the parable could not function in the way that it did for the disciples. Thelatter were given ‘the secret of the Kingdom of God’, the rest were fed parables only.

The existence of a ‘secret’ Gospel of Mark suggests that, just as the parables must be understood to grasp ‘the secret of the Kingdom of God’, then the life of Jesus must also be ‘understood’ to grasp a meaning beyond the mere level of a story. The series of events in his life were themselves the objects of reflection, hence the exasperation of Jesus at the disciples’ failure to understand, which followed his warning about the leaven of the Pharisees:

Do you still not see or understand? 

Are your hearts hardened? 

Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? 

And don’t you remember? 

Do you still not understand? (Mark 8)

Why the exasperation? Because the disciples were behaving like ‘those on the outside’. Because only ‘understanding’, be it of parables or the sequence of events in Jesus’ life, would open ‘the secret of the Kingdom of God’. 

Finally, the two-tiered rendering of parables and the sequence of events in Jesus’ life strongly suggests too that the Kingdom of God had a meaning beyond the superficialities of place, access and membership that might have been the belief of those excluded from the inner circle.

© John Dunn.

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