“Let the Reader Understand
It is a call to Matthew’s reader’s to recognize what Jesus just said. “Remember,” Matthew says, “Jesus said this, and you and I know what this mean.” There’s only one problem–I don’t know what this mean. I’m sure people out there do, but I don’t.
Yet there it is, a call to understand in the middle of the passage, and the reality that I don’t really understand what Jesus is talking about. It would hardly be worth noting but for two details.
First, this verse sits smack in the middle of chapter 24 of Matthew–our text for Sunday night youth group. So here I am, trying to teach from a passage that I don’t fully grasp or understand, with a call in the middle of the passage to understand just what Jesus is saying. How can I teach it if I don’t understand?
But I knew that I knew that I knew that this was the passage we needed to use to finish our study on the Kingdom of God, so I dug into the text and got my head around something that I thought was important and put together the lesson for the evening.
Secondly, I bring it us because as we walked through the passage together, with full disclosure that I struggled to understand it, something amazing happened. For two years I’ve been seeking to understand the gospel more richly and more deeply. I’ve shared with the group my struggle and invited them to help me figure out the “more” about the gospel that was missing. Last night, as we talked about how to live in the midst of rumors of war and famine and false teachers, as we came up with ways to support one another when what we see around us mocks the very idea of God, I realized–this expression of the gospel in light of the Kingdom of God is the bigger picture that we need in order to fully understand the implications of Jesus.
The moment was a holy moment, a sacred heartbeat in the life of our church, when we realized that God was with us and his Spirit had led us to something great.
Here’s the thing, I don’t know if I would have gotten there if I had fully understood Matthew 24. It was in the mystery, in the not understanding, that we were able to dig and pray and humbly guess as to what Jesus was saying. I have taught a lot of different passages that I was sure about what the author wanted to say and what I wanted to communicate, but few have had the power of God’s Spirit move so freely.
My prayer is not that I would understand less, but that as I learn and as I teach I would not be afraid of the mystery of God. My hope is that as students read the Bible and as they come to passages they don’t understand they will see those passages as places to grow and to dive into rather than places to avoid.
However, we want certainty. We want to know for sure and to be able to figure it out, to be able to say without a doubt, “This is this, and that is that.” Why? Is it power? Fear? Or maybe we think that God’s grace isn’t big enough to give us life in his kingdom unless we totally understand what that means?
All I know is that there are seven thunders in the book of Revelation that only John knows about. There are things in history and time and space and God that God alone knows, and while I will seek understanding for my entire life, I want to start to steer into the questions and live with the faith that what I do know about God, his love and grace and forgiveness made real through Jesus is more than enough for me to live loosely with all the things I don’t understand, or perhaps even more importantly all the things I think I understand but don’t.
When has the mystery of God actually led you to a closer experience of God’s love and grace? What suggestions do you have for balancing study with mystery?