When Jesus said, “…go learn what this means…” why didn’t He just tell them what it means? One might argue that He sort of implied a meaning by what He goes on to say, but it is a quote of Hosea 6:6 – Jesus didn’t even name the reference, He didn’t explain the verse, He just left them to do it all. What kind of teacher is that? Turns out, it’s a good kind of teacher.
Teachers are supposed to challenge us to think and reason. They are supposed to give us information, but more – help us understand the information and make us hunger and thirst for more. Teachers are to inspire a curiosity in their students that will cause them to ask questions and not stop until they find answers. This is the kind of students (disciples) that Jesus is looking for. And for that reason He challenged people to ask and seek and knock (Mt 7:7-8).
A great example of this is found in the parables of Jesus. Jesus taught in parables a lot. At one point, Jesus’ disciples seem frustrated and even ask why He is teaching so much in such an enigmatic way (Mt 13:10). Jesus taught over thirty parables, but only explained just a few. When Jesus explained why He taught in parables, many people are surprised to learn that the parables were not primarily intended to illustrate or make things a lot clearer to everyone. Jesus explained:
“Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Mt 13:11-13).
In other words, parables help sort out the spiritually minded from the physically (carnally) minded people. People like His apostles would do what is necessary to understand, but others would not. Those only looking at things from a physical perspective would either get the wrong (physical) lesson from the parable or would not make the effort necessary to learn the true intended meaning. Parables are a challenge and not everyone is up for a challenge.
This is why so few parables were explained by our Lord. And this is why He told some parables that are very difficult to understand (example: The Unjust Steward – Lk 16:1-13). We’re supposed to wonder and ponder their meaning. We’re supposed to ask about and wrestle with and debate their application. This is healthy for our spirits and our faith. And if done right, it will bring us closer to Jesus.
I’m afraid that we expect Jesus to always be easy to understand, both in His words and His actions. He warns us that this will not always be the case. The question is: What will we do when it happens? What if don’t understand? What if others don’t understand? What if others say it’s too hard and that nobody can understand? What will we do then? Well, that’s exactly what happened in John 6.
The feeding of the 5000 is recorded in John 6. It is so significant that it is the only miracle of Jesus (besides the events surrounding His death and resurrection) that is mentioned in all for gospels. It so deeply impacted the people that the next day they went to great measures to find Him so He would give them more. Unfortunately, they were looking at Jesus from a physical perspective and didn’t see the spiritual message of the miracle, so He refused to feed them. As Jesus tried to stretch their spiritual minds, many of them complained and then left Him after saying, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” (6:60, 66). Interestingly enough, Jesus didn’t change what He said to keep people – He didn’t even explain it! But the important lesson comes in verse 67 when Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Understand Jesus or not, we know He has the answers and is the Answer. So, we stay with Him. No matter what.