Most of us love a good puzzle. I certainly do – and I’m not just talking about jigsaws, but all types of head-scratchers. Perhaps it’s Sudoku for you, or crosswords, or logic problems… or a good old-fashioned crime drama. Agatha Christie remains the best-selling author ever – apart from the Bible – because we love a good puzzle. And the dramatic success in 2022 of the mobile app Wordle over shows that this fascination is as strong as ever.
Today we start a section in Mark’s gospel containing a number of Jesus’ wonderful parables. It is commonly thought that one reason Jesus’ parables were so effective is because they earthed theological ideas in everyday matters: Jesus talked about God and life in the language of farmers and fishermen – the world of the people he lived among. Of course, this is true.
What is less well known is that Jesus didn’t necessarily do this to make his teaching easy to understand. It might be earthed in everyday life, but it was still meant to be something of a puzzle. Something to make us scratch our heads and wonder what it means. Something, even, that might remain veiled to those not prepared to look closely – he said as much at the end of today’s passage: ‘To those on the outside everything is said in parables, so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding.’
It might come as a shock to hear Jesus apparently wanting people to be puzzled. Surely a great teacher would want things to be clear? Aren’t simple soundbites better than slippery stories? Why make things difficult?
The answer is that Jesus wants us to seek him – to have hearts and minds that go beyond surface thinking and feeling, to yearn for deeper things, real connections. Life is complex, and full of mystery. Simple answers offer short term benefits but are rarely satisfying for a whole life. Jesus wants us to puzzle it out: to wrestle with the big questions of life and faith.
So he tells parables: teasers, puzzles, always asking the bigger questions – what is life really about? How do we live fruitfully for the whole of our lives? Where do we get distracted, or misled? And what is a truly good heart?
When I really think about it, these are the questions I really want answers to. Perhaps you do, too. That kind of deep truth doesn’t come quickly, or easily. But when it is revealed, it is like pure gold. Take a few moments today to ask God to reveal more of that deep truth to you – that the Word might fall on rich soil in our hearts. And may Jesus continue to amaze us, that we might worship him afresh today.