Today I skip all the rest of the readings and focus on the last line of today’s Gospel. The whole Gospel reading is Mark 4:26-34. The last half sentence is: “He did not speak to them [the crowds] except in parables, but He explained everything in private to His disciples.”

I hope it’s not sacrilegious to say this, but: I’ve always half-way resented this habit of Jesus. Why speak in parables, rather than in clear and unambiguous terms? Why leave things so open to interpretation? Lord knows, we humans often have trouble understanding things even when they are laid out clearly for us; why make it even more difficult for us to understand that which should be the single most important thing in our lives, which is the Word of God?

And why would Jesus explain Himself more clearly to His disciples? One would think that if they were with Him all the time, He would give them the parables and make them figure out the meaning — as an exercise to lead them to deeper understanding through the harder work of figuring out His word puzzles. The parables require more thought, deeper reflection — the sort of thing one would ask of those whose very mission is to spread the Gospel; but not the sort of thing one would ask of an ordinary listener, hearing Christ probably only once (in person) in a lifetime, and thus having only the one chance to understand and “get it right.”

The whole approach seems logically backwards.

But God has more important things in mind for us than simple logic would allow. Our God is not a god of ease, not a god who demands simple and mindless obedience; instead, He asks that we ponder and struggle and (like Jacob) wrestle with Him, so that through the challenge and exertion we may, like the faith-equivalent of athletes, develop and strengthen and hone our abilities. An athlete does not improve via sloth, but via training. Speed and strength grow only through hard work.

So it is with faith. God does not want us to be mindless automatons, and He does not want us to remain as children, unreflective and undeveloped. He wants us to grow.

By speaking in parables, Jesus makes us think and, in that exercise of our faculties, to grow and develop. We may envy the explanations He provided to His disciples, but if we were provided them too easily, our sense of God’s great and magnificent mystery would be pitifully atrophied and emaciated. Our souls are much the richer as our discernment of that mystery deepens. The parables give us a spiritual work-out, perhaps not so much appreciated as we sweat through it, but a work-out that makes us stronger, and feeling better in our faith, for all the challenges to come.