“Jesus continued, “Does anyone ever bring in a lamp and put it under a bowl or under the bed? Doesn’t he put it on the lamp-stand? Whatever is hidden away will be brought out into the open, and whatever is covered up will be uncovered. Listen, then, if you have ears!”” (Mark 4:21–23, GNB)
Strange words, these. Didn’t Jesus just say:
“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 4:11–12, ESV)
One thing that we can immediately conclude about Jesus is that whatever else he meant in Mark 4.11-12, he did not mean that he did not want people to perceive and understand his words. Indeed, in vv. 21-23 he says just the opposite.
Matthew Henry notes what Jesus’ purpose was in making such an enigmatic statement:
These declarations were intended to call the attention of the disciples to the word of Christ. By his thus instructing them, they were made able to instruct others; as candles are lighted, not to be covered, but to be placed on a candlestick, that they may give light to a room. [Matthew Henry Concise Commentary]
“Listen, then, if you have ears!” makes all the more sense to us in this light. What Jesus is teaching to his disciples, they would all too soon be teaching to others. What Jesus had spoken in parables, his followers would teach to others plainly, and so the Kingdom of God would advance as Jesus’ disciples sowed the word. The Pulpit Commentary puts it as if Jesus were speaking:
Take heed what ye hear. Attend, that is, to these words which ye hear from me, that ye may understand them, and commit them to memory, and so be able to communicate them effectually to others. Let none of my words escape you. Our Lord bids us to pay the greatest attention to his words, and so to digest them that we may be able to teach them to others.
The Kingdom of God, as the parable of the sower makes clear, will advance as we spread God’s word as made clear in the life, words, and works of Jesus. We can hardly do that if we have not understood it deeply ourselves.