No Wasted Effort

One semester in seminary, I traveled 6 hours each week to attend an hour of class. It was a big investment of time and money. Most of my classes were offered on-line, but this was one of the few I could only take in person. That one hour took the whole day and about $60 of gas each week, plus tuition costs. I always felt the effort was worth it, except once.

One week, my car-pool friend and I showed up to class to find that another person besides our professor was teaching. The topic was not about the class subject, and it was something I already knew. I struggled with a feeling of being duped the whole class, and my attitude was not the best. I did not get what was promised that class period. I wish I would have been warned ahead of time. Then, I would have stayed home. Instead, I felt like the day was a complete waste of effort.

If you have ever wasted time and effort on something that did not deliver, then you understand how you can become wary of doing it again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me, right?

In our passage in Mark 4, Jesus has explained why he teaches in parables. Mysteries and puzzles invite people to discover more … or to resist. But, if meaning is hidden, how can we know if we can ever find it? What if the search is just a big waste of effort?

In Mark 4:21-25, Jesus assures us that we CAN understand his meaning and that in seeking him there is no wasted effort. In fact, he says that any effort we apply to connecting with him through listening to his word will return to us not in proportion, but in abundance. He assures us the return on puzzling out his words is worth every effort.

And he began to say to them, “Is the lamp brought out so that it might be put under a basket or under a bed? No! Is it not brought out so that it might be placed on the lampstand? Yes! For nothing is hidden if not so that it might be seen, nor does a secret happen except that it might come to light.

If anyone has ears to hear, listen!”

And he continued to say to them, “Consider carefully what you hear… in what measure you measure, it will be measured to you, and more! For whoever has it will be given to them. And whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

We will see the light.

Jesus uses this teaching about lamps being hidden in two different applications. You might recognize the children’s song from Matthew 5 and Luke 14. Hide it under a bushel? No! Let your little light shine. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus is instructing his disciples to display their lives as a light, or a witness to Jesus’ teachings. However, here in Mark 4, the context is different and so is the meaning.

In Mark 4:21, Jesus and his teaching are the lamp. We know this by how the Greek sentence is constructed, but more importantly by the context of this entire passage beginning at verse 1. Jesus is using parables to explain why he uses parables.

A lamp or light is also a common metaphor for God, God’s Word, and Jesus himself. Psalm 119:105 describes God’s Word as a lamp and a light that show us where to go. 2 Samuel 22: 29 says, “For You, O LORD, are my lamp; the LORD lights up my darkness.” John 1:4-9 describe Jesus as the light shining in the darkness. In John 8:12, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The light of the lamp, or Jesus’ teaching, is meant to shine. It’s purpose is not to be hidden. Jesus’s teaching is not meant to remain obscured, but to be spotlighted and understood. Jesus wants us to take his words and place them prominently in our lives so that its light can illuminate how we walk.

Verse 22 is really puzzling since it doesn’t seem to be generally true. Are things hidden for the purpose of being revealed? No, they aren’t. For instance, I wear clothes to hide private parts, and I have no intention of revealing those things to you! People hide money so that they cannot be found by those who wish to steal it. People keep secrets that they really don’t want anyone else to knoe.

This statement of Jesus is not a general truth. But, it can be a specific truth. Jesus is talking about why HE hides his teaching inside of parables. He conceals so that truth might be revealed. He obscures for the purpose of bringing clarity. Jesus hides what he wants to be seen. He expects his mysteries to come to light.

Jesus assures us that if we look, we will see the light. It is meant to be seen and understood.

We won’t waste our efforts.

Jesus’ light is seen by the ears. Understanding comes by hearing. Jesus says to listen, to carefully consider. Our ears hear, but our brain listens. Whatever effort you apply in engaging with Jesus’s words will determine your level of understanding.

What does it mean to engage with Jesus words? First, you have to know what he said. The best way to become familiar with Jesus’s teaching is to read the Bible yourself. Then, you carefully consider what you’ve read. How is the teaching true? What does it mean? Can it be put into practice in your own life?

The most important consideration when puzzling out the meaning of Jesus’ teachings is to consider love. Later in Mark 12:29-31, Jesus says that all of God’s word and his own teaching can be summarized as prompting us to love God and other people. Nothing Jesus says or does will contradict love. As we search for meaning in the light of Jesus, we must allow our limited definitions and expressions of love to reflect how he expressed God’s love for us.

Jesus assures us that unlike all the effort I put into attending that disappointing class lecture   at seminary, seeking to understand him will be worth it.  Searching out the meaning of Jesus’ words is not wasted effort. If we seek, we will find. And, what we find will not disappoint.

In Mark 4:21-25, Jesus assures us that we CAN understand his meaning and that in seeking him there is no wasted effort.

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