Mark 4:10-12

When he was alone, those who were around him along 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 comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’” Mark 4:10-12

I’ve never been in a club with a secret handshake. Frat life for me in college was playing on the basketball team. I was a Cub Scout washout. We didn’t have gangs in North Dakota…we had cliques. There was nothing secretive about them….they were just selective.

Sometimes the church feels like that kind of secret society clique but it really isn’t. Most congregations will take anybody. Maybe some are so close to death that they might actually invite someone new to come someday. We can wish, can’t we?

But there was a time when there were very few Jesus followers in the world. Experts in the first century church suggest (ignoring the numerical hyperbole of Acts) that there might have been as few as 5000 Christians in the entirely of the Roman Empire at the end of the 1st century. There were times of relative peace but there were also periods of significant persecution of the earliest Christians. Nero blamed the great fire in Rome on the Christians in 64 CE.

Mark was written in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans between 66-70 CE. That horribly dark time was quite likely the trigger that said, “We need to be writing some of this stuff down!”

Probably the greatest challenge in those early years came from within as commitment to Jesus usually met the painful breaking of ties with family and community. Christianity began as an internal family squabble within Judaism. The communal cracks that formed during and after the ministry of Jesus became much greater divisions after Jerusalem as sacked and the temple destroyed.

Mark was written in the midst of all of that. As I have shared before, the great “secret” theme that runs through Mark will be resolved at the end…in a very interesting way. For now, let’s not read any more into these verses than we need to. From the very beginning, some got it and some didn’t. Some believed and some didn’t. And even among those who believed, not all believed the same thing. Not much has really changed, has it?

In fact, Mark quotes from Isaiah 6:9-10 in the poetry about looking but not seeing, hearing but not understanding, and thus, not repenting or being forgiven. Then, as now, the great mystery is how some people get it, some people get it wrong, and some just don’t get it.

It always intellectually troubling to read passages like this. It seems counter to us when Jesus tells someone not to say anything to anyone or when Jesus makes it sound like he is purposely obscuring the truth lest it change anyone’s mind.

But there is also an inherent challenge when we read such verses. Mark writes in a way that gives us inside status. We join the disciples as Jesus challenges them. Jesus asks us, “Am I seeing? Am I understanding? Am I open-minded or am I shut down? Am I willing to be humble and surrender my life to God’s care and keeping – to repent and be forgiven – or am I content just to do my own thing, go my own way?”

Let us pray: Lord, sometimes it feels like we just don’t get it. We confuse faith with certainty and we run rather than wrestle. There are times when are heads are confused and our hearts are hard. Forgive us. Renew us. Direct us. Use us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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