The disciples came and asked Jesus, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" He answered, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that 'seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.' With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: 'You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn – and I would heal them.' But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
There are art books that superimpose a network of geometric shapes on a painting in an effort to ‘explain’ it. The more complex they are, the less credible. It is the same with all explanations. “I wish he would explain his explanations,” someone said of a philosopher. Jesus did very little explaining. He preferred to leave his parables there to do their work by themselves. You don’t have to cut open a seed (in fact you had better not) in order to explain it before putting it in the ground. It grows better if you don’t explain it that way! In spiritual matters, too, explanations generally have done more harm than good. When something is explained (the word means ‘flattened out’) we lose interest in it; it loses its power to move us or challenge us or take us beyond a certain ingrained rationalism.
There is no problem about leaving things unexplained. In the 2nd century St Irenaeus wrote: “Why should we complain if… we are able by the grace of God to explain some things [in Scripture], while we must leave others in the hands of God, and that not only in the present world, but also in the world to come, so that God should forever teach, and we should forever learn?”
In the 14th century Julian of Norwich wrote that God revealed to her “a great thing which was to come…. But what the deed would be was kept secret from me…. I saw hidden in God an exalted and wonderful mystery, which he will make plain and we shall know in heaven.”
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