“Listen to me, all of you, and understand the meaning.”—MARK 7:14.
1, 2. Why did many who listened to Jesus fail to understand the meaning of his words?
A PERSON may hear the sounds of someone speaking to him. He may even note the tone of voice. But of what use would that be to him if he did not understand the meaning of the words being spoken? (1 Cor. 14:9) In a similar way, thousands heard what Jesus was saying. He even spoke to them in a language that they could understand. However, not all of them understood the meaning of his words. For this reason, Jesus told his audience: “Listen to me, all of you, and understand the meaning.”—Mark 7:14.
2 Why did many fail to understand the meaning of what Jesus said? Some had preconceived opinions and wrong motives. Jesus said of such ones: “You skillfully disregard the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.” (Mark 7:9) These people did not really try to get the meaning of his words. They did not want to change their ways and views. Their ears may have been open, but their hearts were tightly shut! (Read Matthew 13:13-15.) How, though, can we make sure that our hearts remain open so that we can benefit from Jesus’ teaching?
HOW TO BENEFIT FROM JESUS’ TEACHING
3. Why were the disciples able to understand Jesus’ words?
3 We need to follow the example of Jesus’ humble disciples. He said of them: “Happy are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear.” (Matt. 13:16) Why were they able to understand when others were not? First, they were willing to ask questions and to search for the real meaning behind Jesus’ words. (Matt. 13:36; Mark 7:17) Second, they were willing to build on what they had already accepted in their hearts. (Read Matthew 13:11, 12.) Third, they were willing to use what they had heard and understood, not only in their personal lives but also in their efforts to help others.—Matt. 13:51, 52.
4. To understand Jesus’ illustrations, what three steps are involved?
4 If we want to understand Jesus’ illustrations, we need to follow the example of his faithful disciples. This also involves three steps. First, we need to be willing to take the time to study and meditate on what Jesus said, to do the necessary research, and to ask the appropriate questions. This leads to knowledge. (Prov. 2:4, 5) Next, we need to see how that knowledge fits in with what we already know, discerning its benefit to us personally. That results in understanding. (Prov. 2:2, 3) Finally, we should use what we have learned, putting it into action in our lives. This shows wisdom on our part.—Prov. 2:6, 7.
5. Illustrate the difference between knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
5 What is the difference between knowledge, understanding, and wisdom? It could be illustrated this way: Imagine you are standing in the middle of a road and a bus is coming toward you. First, you recognize that it is a bus—that is knowledge. Next, you realize that if you remain standing there, you will be hit by the bus—that is understanding! So you jump out of the way of the bus—that is wisdom! Little wonder the Bible emphasizes the need for us to “safeguard practical wisdom.” It means our very life!—Prov. 3:21, 22; 1 Tim. 4:16.
6. What four questions will we ask while examining seven of Jesus’ illustrations? (See accompanying box.)
6 In this article and the following, we will examine seven illustrations that Jesus used. As we do so, we will ask the following questions: What does the illustration mean? (This helps us to gain knowledge.) Why did Jesus give us this illustration? (This leads to understanding.) How can we use this information to help ourselves as well as others? (This is wisdom.) Finally, what does this teach us about Jehovah and Jesus?
THE MUSTARD GRAIN
7. What is the meaning of the illustration of the mustard grain?
7 Read Matthew 13:31, 32. What is the meaning of Jesus’ illustration of the mustard grain? The grain itself represents the Kingdom message as well as what results from the preaching of that message—the Christian congregation. Like the mustard grain that is “the tiniest of all the seeds,” the Christian congregation had small beginnings in 33 C.E. However, within a few decades, the congregation grew rapidly. It expanded beyond all expectations. (Col. 1:23) This growth was beneficial because Jesus tells us that “the birds of heaven” were able to “find lodging among its branches.” These figurative birds picture righthearted individuals who find spiritual food, shade, and shelter within the Christian congregation.—Compare Ezekiel 17:23.
8. Why did Jesus use the illustration about the mustard grain?
8 Why did Jesus use this illustration? He used the amazing growth of a mustard grain to illustrate the power of God’s Kingdom arrangement to expand, protect, and conquer all obstacles. Since 1914 the growth of the visible part of God’s organization has been phenomenal! (Isa. 60:22) Those associating with that organization have enjoyed wonderful spiritual protection. (Prov. 2:7; Isa. 32:1, 2) Additionally, the ongoing expansion of Kingdom interests has proved to be unstoppable, overcoming all opposition.—Isa. 54:17.
9. (a) What lesson can we learn from the illustration of the mustard grain? (b) What does this teach us about Jehovah and Jesus?
9 What can we learn from the illustration of the mustard grain? Perhaps we live in an area where there are few Witnesses or where we do not see a lot of immediate results in our preaching work. Yet, remembering that the Kingdom arrangement can overcome all obstacles will strengthen us to endure. For example, when Brother Edwin Skinner arrived in India in 1926, there were only a handful of Witnesses in that country. Initially, there was little progress, and the work was described as “hard going.” But he kept on preaching and saw how the Kingdom message overcame great obstacles. Now there are over 37,000 active Witnesses in India, with over 108,000 attending the Memorial last year. Also consider an example of how impressively the Kingdom arrangement has expanded. In the same year that Brother Skinner arrived in India, the work had just started in Zambia. Now over 170,000 publishers preach there, and 763,915 attended the Memorial in 2013. This means that 1 in every 18 persons in Zambia attended. What amazing growth!
10. What is the meaning of the illustration of the leaven?
10 Read Matthew 13:33. What is the meaning of the illustration of the leaven? This illustration also refers to the Kingdom message and what it produces. “The whole mass” of flour represents all the nations, and the fermenting process pictures the spread of the Kingdom message by means of the preaching work. Whereas the growth of the mustard grain is clearly observable, the spreading of the leaven is initially unseen. It is not until some time later that the effects become evident.
11. Why did Jesus use the illustration about the leaven?
11 Why did Jesus use this illustration? He was showing that the Kingdom message has power to spread pervasively and to cause changes. The Kingdom message has reached “the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) However, the changes caused by the message are not always discernible; some of the effects may even go unnoticed at first. But there is change—not just change with regard to numbers but also change in the personality of those who accept this pervasive message.—Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:22, 23.
12, 13. Give examples of how the Kingdom-preaching work has grown just as described in the illustration about the leaven.
12 The effect of the preaching work is often seen years after the initial work has been done. For example, Franz and Margit, who are now serving at another branch, were in 1982 serving at the branch office in Brazil. They witnessed in a small rural town. Among the Bible studies that were started was one with a mother and her four children. The oldest boy, just 12 years of age at the time, was extremely shy and often tried to hide before the study began. Because of a change of assignment, the couple were not able to continue the study. But they were able to visit this town 25 years later. What did they find? A congregation of 69 publishers, 13 of whom were regular pioneers, all meeting in a new Kingdom Hall. And what about the shy boy? He now serves as the coordinator of the body of elders! Just like the leaven in Jesus’ illustration, the Kingdom message had grown and changed the lives of many—much to the joy of the visiting couple!
13 The unseen power of the Kingdom message to change people has particularly been evident in countries where the Kingdom work is legally restricted. It is hard to know how far the message has reached in such countries, and we are often surprised by the results. Take Cuba, for example. The Kingdom message reached there in 1910, and Brother Russell visited Cuba in 1913. However, the progress was slow at first. What do we now see in Cuba? There are over 96,000 publishers preaching the good news, and 229,726 attended the Memorial in 2013—that is 1 out of every 48 inhabitants of that island nation. Even in countries that are not under ban, the Kingdom message may have reached into areas where local Witnesses think that little witnessing can be done.*—Eccl. 8:7; 11:5.
14, 15. (a) How can we personally benefit from the lesson behind the illustration of the leaven? (b) What does this teach us about Jehovah and Jesus?
14 How can we benefit from what Jesus taught us in the illustration of the leaven? When we meditate on the meaning of Jesus’ illustration, we realize that there is no need for us to be overly concerned about how the Kingdom message will reach the millions who have not yet heard it. Jehovah has everything under control. But what is our work? God’s Word answers: “Sow your seed in the morning and do not let your hand rest until the evening; for you do not know which will have success, whether this one or that one, or whether they will both do well.” (Eccl. 11:6) Of course, at the same time, we should never forget to pray for the success of the preaching work, especially in countries where the work is restricted.—Eph. 6:18-20.
15 Additionally, we should not be discouraged if we do not at first see results from our work. We should never despise “the day of small beginnings.” (Zech. 4:10) The results may eventually turn out to be a lot greater and more wonderful than we had ever anticipated!—Ps. 40:5; Zech. 4:7.
THE TRAVELING MERCHANT AND THE HIDDEN TREASURE
16. What is the meaning of the illustration about the traveling merchant and the illustration about the hidden treasure?
16 Read Matthew 13:44-46. What is the meaning of the illustration about the traveling merchant and that of the hidden treasure? In Jesus’ day, some merchants would travel as far as the Indian Ocean to obtain the finest pearls. The merchant in this illustration represents righthearted people who go to great lengths to satisfy their spiritual needs. The “one pearl of high value” pictures the precious truth of the Kingdom. Having recognized the value of that pearl, the merchant was willing to sell “promptly” all the things he had so that he could buy it. Jesus also spoke of a man who was working in a field and found “hidden” treasure. Unlike the merchant, this man was not searching for treasure. But like the merchant, he was willing to sell “everything” in order to obtain the treasure.
17. Why did Jesus give the illustrations about the traveling merchant and the hidden treasure?
17 Why did Jesus give those two parables? He was showing that the truth is found in different ways. Some people are searching for it and have gone to great lengths to find it. Others, although not searching for it, have found it—perhaps by having it brought to them. Whatever the case, each man recognized the value of what he had found and was willing to make huge sacrifices to get ahold of it.
18. (a) How can we benefit from these two illustrations? (b) What does this teach us about Jehovah and Jesus?
18 How can we benefit from these two illustrations? (Matt. 6:19-21) Ask yourself: ‘Do I have the attitude that these men had? Do I treasure the truth in a similar way? Am I willing to make sacrifices to get ahold of it, or do I allow other things, such as the cares of daily life, to distract me from it?’ (Matt. 6:22-24, 33; Luke 5:27, 28; Phil. 3:8) The deeper our heartfelt joy about finding the truth, the stronger our determination to keep it first in our life will be.
19. What will we consider in the next article?
19 May we show that we have listened and really understood the meaning of these Kingdom illustrations. Remember, we do that not just by knowing their meaning but by applying the lessons we learn from them. In the next article, we will consider three more illustrations and see what lessons we can learn from them.