The Kingdom of God has always been a difficult concept to grasp. In first-century Palestine, when Jesus went around saying, “The Kingdom of God is near,” most people assumed that He was about to start a political revolution. When it looked like nothing was happening, they started asking, “Where is it?” – to which He replied, “It’s within (or among) you.” (Luke 17:21) That confused them no end. And we’re still struggling with what it all means today.
But He taught in parables to help us get an idea of what the Kingdom of God is all about. And that’s very important because we are citizens of that Kingdom – it’s our own country, it’s where we belong. A lot of Jesus’ parables begin with the words, “The Kingdom of God is like…” It’s like a man sowing seed (Mark 4:26) – but in another parable (Mark 4:31) it’s like the seed itself. Each parable gives us a window through which to look at some aspect of the Kingdom, and thus to increase our understanding of it.
Shining light (Mark 4:21,22)
These two verses show us how parables ‘work’. We all know what a lamp is – we have plenty in our homes. The whole point of having them is to light up the house, so they’re placed where they’ll give the most benefit. That’s why, in these days of electric light, the main light in a room usually hangs from the middle of the ceiling. There would be no point putting it in a cupboard! In Jesus’ time, people depended on candles and oil lamps, which need air to burn. If you were stupid enough to hide your oil lamp under a bowl, it wouldn’t be long before it went out!
What might this have to do with spiritual things? Well, the world is a spiritually dark place which badly needs the light of God’s truth. And we have that light – so what do we do with it? Are we eager to share it with other people, or are we doing our very best to hide it? Are we using our gifts, sharing our assets, and displaying God’s righteousness and grace to the rest of the world?
Unfortunately it’s very easy to find excuses for not doing these things. We’re afraid of causing offence, or of looking foolish, or perhaps we’re simply too busy… But – there’s a warning hidden in this parable. The oil lamp left too long under a bowl will go out, and if we don’t advertise our faith at all, it will eventually wither away.
“If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear” (Mark 4:23)
Jesus says this many times over in the course of His teaching, so we’d better take note of it! Do His words go in one ear and out the other – or are we allowing them to lodge in our minds and change us? For we can’t be neutral: our faith is either growing or withering, depending on our attitude. If we don’t act on what we hear we become spiritual slobs, with our faith getting more and more feeble until it fades away completely. When I broke my wrist a few years ago, it was in plaster for six weeks, and when the plaster was taken off, my hand had become too weak to do anything; I couldn’t even open a clothespeg! That’s how quickly it can happen -, and it took weeks of physiotherapy to get it back to normal again. But if we exercise our spiritual muscles by putting what we hear into practice, our faith will get stronger, and we’ll become capable of learning and understanding more.