“And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 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, so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”” (Mark 4:10–12, ESV)
Peculiar words, these. They sound like Jesus is purposefully being vague, opaque, and discriminatory in order to keep people from repenting and being forgiven! What gives?
We know this cannot be true because it is the exact opposite of Jesus’ main message:
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”” (Mark 1:14–15, ESV)
Don’t forget the context of the Parable of the Sower. It’s a story of Jesus doing many miracles intertwined with the opposition of the Pharisees and religious leaders. They see all that Jesus does, they hear all that he says, and their response is to plot to destroy him (Mark 3.6). The problem was not that Jesus was trying to keep people from repenting, the stumbling block was that people would not repent. They would listen to Jesus; they would hear his words; they would accept free meals from him, but where are they when it comes time to explain his parables? Why aren’t they together with “those around him with the twelve” asking him why he just gave a lecture on agronomy? The answer is that they didn’t care enough to find out.
This is why the context of Jesus’ quote from Isaiah [in bold above] is so crucial to understanding the passage. God tells Isaiah to go preach to the people of Judah all that God will tell him to say, but the people will not respond. The NIV Application Commentary points out:
God tells the prophet to preach in spite of warning him in advance that it will only harden the hearts of the hearers until God carries out the punishment. That command brims over with irony and scorn. God calls a faithful prophet to preach to faithless people.
Jesus was preaching to people who did not want to hear, who enjoyed a good show, but went back to their homes unchanged. The difference between being an “insider” and an “outsider” here is that the insiders are persistent inquirers. They do not go back to their homes, but find Jesus and ask what he meant teaching on agronomy. The NIV Application Commentary points out that “the decisive difference is that insiders are not indifferent.”
When you deal in the realm of the Kingdom of God, dear reader, you gotta want it.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” (Matthew 11:28–30, ESV), says Jesus; but you must come, you must pursue, you must not be indifferent.