Too much public discourse today seems to be a matter of people saying bad things about those who disagree with them. This sort of argumentative discourse leads to conflict: one group often tries to force its views on the other, to silence them and suppress their views. It can get ugly. But this is not how Jesus works. He knows that conflict can hinder listening and understanding, so he does not try to impose his views on others, nor did he allow others to suppress his. Certainly, conflict often came his way: the cross and resurrection are examples of that. But what he sought from his hearers was not argument, but understanding.
One key technique Jesus used was the parable: a brief story to illustrate a truth in an indirect way. When asked why he spoke in parables, he said [Matthew 13] that only some of his hearers had “ears” for the truth he was teaching. He explained that many of the people had closed their eyes and ears so that they would not have to understand what he said, and thus risk having to change their lives accordingly. Hence he spoke in parables, so that those who sought understanding could pursue the truth, while others who did not want to understand could quietly disregard what he was saying. Parables were a clever way for Jesus to reach those with open hearts, without offending those whose hearts were closed.
We can learn from this. First, if we have a truth to share, arguing may not be the best way to share it: consider finding ways to speak the truth without making people upset or defensive. You may have better results by focusing your message on those who are willing to listen. Second, be that person: be someone willing to listen. Yes, with God’s help, you can be one of those few who want to understand, the few who pursue the truth, rather than one of the many who don’t. This may be risky: once you understand something, you do need to act on it, even if it means changing your life, and that’s scary. You might need to give up things that you like, or embrace things that frighten you. Who knows where it could end?
But this is exactly why Jesus so values those who seek understanding: the truth that Jesus teaches is truth that transforms lives. This is why he wants people who are willing to be changed. To them he offers himself: life-changing, powerful, loving, good. This is something special indeed, something worth the risk. Do seek to understand Jesus, despite the risks, so that he can make you into the better person that God the Father has always intended you to be.
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