“The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”
He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward a welcome awakening. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:
Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.
Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.
The people are stupid!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
so they won’t have to look,
so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face
and let me heal them.
“But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.”” (Matthew 13:10-17, The Message)
Think about a time when you got ready for something - a race, a game, a big exam, a road trip, your wedding, your child’s arrival into the world, a difficult conversation. What did you do? Well, depending on which of those events it was, maybe you tied up loose ends at work, gave some instructions to a neighbor, made some reservations, and packed your suitcase. If it was a big exam, you studied and studied and studied some more. If it was an athletic competition, you practiced each day or you had a certain training regimen that you followed for many weeks or months, leading up to the big day. The point is that you prepared. You got ready.
Jesus has just finished telling the Parable of the Sower to a crowd. (See Matthew 13:1-9.) The crowd was so large that Jesus got into a boat and spoke to the people gathered along the beach. After telling this story, his disciples ask him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” [In The Message: “Why do you tell stories?”]
Jesus responds by saying that he tells stories “to create readiness, to nudge the people toward a welcome awakening.”
He says this in the midst of commenting that not everyone has a “ready heart” when it comes to receiving insights about the kingdom of God.
In an analogous way to preparing for an exam, a race, or a trip, how can we make our hearts ready for the kingdom of God? Here are some ways that we can have ready hearts:
- We can be open to learning from all situations, events, and circumstances. Regularly say to yourself, “Hmmm… what am I supposed to be learning right now?”
- We can be on the lookout for signs of God’s presence and God’s grace.
- We can cultivate a daily practice of gratitude. What are you grateful for - right now?
- We can make a commitment to assuming the best about others’ motives and intentions.
- We can acknowledge that we may not be right, and that there is still so much that we have to learn.
- We can cultivate the ability to laugh, especially at ourselves. (Flip side of this coin: Try not to take ourselves too seriously.)
- We can have a strong, ongoing desire for our own transformation, and focus on this more than we do on how others should change.
The folks who had the most difficulties with Jesus’ teaching, his actions, and his stories were usually the folks who were sure that they were right, the folks who were trying to catch him saying or doing the wrong thing, the folks who were suspicious of his motives, suspicious that he “told this story against them.” They did not have a teachable spirit or a ready heart.
This week, maybe we can be at least as concerned about our heart readiness as we are about our readiness for the interview, the presentation, the difficult conversation, the trip, or the big game.
Lord, help us! We offer our hearts to you. May our hearts be hearts of flesh and not hearts of stone. By your grace, heal us, O Lord!