(2 Sm 7:4-17; Ps 89:4-5, 27-28, 29-30; Mk 4:1-20)
Have you ever noticed how God reacts to different people in different ways in the Bible? On the one hand, God is often eager to tell us what to do, what is good, and what is expected. On the other hand, Jesus often seemed to express some irritation when asked about why his actions were correct, or – as in today’s Gospel selection – frustration or disappointment with his disciples when they couldn’t figure out the meaning of his parables, as if he expected us to figure out what’s right or wrong on our own.
So what’s going on here? Is God ready and eager to tell us in certitude what is expected of us, or are we supposed to take the teachings of Christ and discern what the truth is through our own contemplation?
One of the most important lessons I believe Jesus taught us was the strong familial relationship that exists between God and humanity (as seen in today’s first reading: “I will be a father to [David’s heir], and he shall be a son to me.”). Christ encourages us to think of God as “Abba,” which is a term roughly analogous to “daddy” or “papa.” In other words, we’re encouraged to think of our Heavenly Father not as an unapproachable, unknowable force of the universe, but as someone with whom we have the same intimate, trusting, loving bond that we have with our own parents. Similarly, we are encouraged to think of Christ as our brother, with the similar close familial bond that implies.
As a father myself, I understand that there is an ebb and flow in how I relate to my son. When he is feeling down and afraid, it’s my job to comfort him and strengthen his resolve. When he’s done something wrong, it’s my job to ensure he sees the error of his ways, even if that correction makes him feels bad. When he’s feeling confident in his knowledge or skill, it’s my job to push him a bit further and see if I can encourage him to take his understanding to new levels . . . even if he gets frustrated with me.
None of my actions are inconsistent. I’m merely molding my approach to what I believe to be best for my child in different situations.
And thus it is with God. In the first reading today, from the Second Book of Samuel, God clearly tells the prophet Nathan what to tell David, and that message itself is clear: he will establish the House of David, and it shall endure forever.
I’m reminded of when I’m conveying information to my son. In those situations, there’s no real teaching . . . no back and forth as I try to enlighten him as much as possible.
In contrast, today’s selection from the Gospel of Mark has Jesus giving one of his parables, about a sower sowing seeds far and wide. Based on his reaction, I’m guessing that the disciples didn’t reflect very carefully on his words, or were too eager to just be provided the answer. Of course, Jesus knew that the richness of his message was most fully revealed by careful contemplation. While there is a correct interpretation (which Jesus provides), I feel he thinks it would have been better if his disciples had gotten closer to the truth themselves.
Again, I’ve faced this situation as a parent. Just yesterday I presented my son with a mild brain teaser: If you’re running a race with a dozen runners, and you run past the person in second place, what place are you now in? He thought a moment and said, “First?” Now, at that moment, I could have just told him he was wrong and said the correct answer, but I walked him through it. I loved the enlightened look on his face as he figured it out, but it was only possible because I didn’t tell him the answer. And in similar situations, where my son has just expected me to tell him the solution, I have gotten frustrated with him. I’ll say, “Provide me with an answer – literally any answer, no matter how wrong – and I’ll be happy. But if you just shrug your shoulders, I can’t work with that to grow your understanding.”
Like today’s first reading, there are many parts of the Bible where the answer is clear, and God explains explicitly what’s going on, or what’s expected of us. There are many other portions of Sacred Scripture that are less clear, where God clearly intended us to interact with his words, to talk with Christ and among ourselves, and to try to actively figure things out.
And it worked, too! By making it clear that we were supposed to spend time, effort, and prayer figuring out what he meant, Jesus ensured his ministry would continue to the modern day. Billions of words have been written about the Bible and the Christian faith (including this post!), all of it continuing the tradition that Jesus clearly wanted in ensuring we live the Word in our hearts and minds.
So please do not be discouraged if some part of the Bible is not crystal clear. By contemplation, research (including the Catechism of the Catholic Church), reflection among other believers, and prayer, all of us together can move ever closer to knowing, understanding, and loving God. And that’s so much more fulfilling, to me, than expecting God to spell out every last answer explicitly.