“Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand! . . . ‘They see what I do, but they don’t perceive its meaning. They hear my words, but they don’t understand. So they will not turn from their sins and be forgiven.’“ - Mark 4:9, 12
Everybody, young and old, loves a story. My grandchildren have a few favorites that they ask me to tell them over and over again. Like the one about my grandfather who was accused by a neighbor of throwing a brick through his window. He denied it, so his father punished him twice—once for breaking the window and the second time for denying it. There was only one problem: He had not thrown the brick. So, having been punished for what he did not do, he promptly went to the neighbor’s house and threw the brick through the window! I have been trying to find the moral of this story for the benefit of my grandchildren, but I’m not sure that I have succeeded!
There is a problem, of course, with repeating the same stories. The hearers can become so acquainted with them, so familiar with their twists and turns, and so aware of their conclusion that the stories lose their impact, even though they are nice to hear. Familiarity seems to deaden the senses, rather like what happens to young people who spend endless hours listening to music played at an alarming decibel level. Their hearing is deadened, and their perceptions are dulled.
When God commissioned Isaiah to go and preach to his people, God gave him the strangest orders. Isaiah was apparently required to proclaim God’s message to the people, knowing full well that they would not listen or respond (see Isaiah 6:9-10). It looks at first sight as if God was setting his people up—sending a prophet but knowing full well that they would not pay any attention. But that was not the case. Isaiah preached in unmistakably simple terms, with great passion and concern. God’s attempt to reach his people’s hearts was genuine. At the same time, God knew in advance how they would respond: their hearts were callused to the message.
When Jesus embarked on his ministry in Galilee he found a similar situation (Mark 4:12). He said that when he preached, it was like a sower sowing seed on hard ground, in shallow soil, or among thorns. The seed did not germinate and reproduce as intended. Only a few seeds fell on good soil and grew to maturity. No wonder Jesus told his hearers, “Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand” (4:9).
There is a warning here for those of us who have ample access to God’s Word, who have Bibles we can read regularly, who attend services where the word is preached faithfully. We can become so familiar with the message, we can so enjoy the sound of it and bask in the beauty of it, that we become desensitized to the meaning and impact of it.
God’s Word is supposed to bring forth abundant fruit, and the harvest of a changed life should be plain to see. If we are willing to hear the story, we should listen and understand.
For Further Study: Mark 4:1-20