Tony's Reflection 43 

Have you tried out any new pastimes during lockdown?

My middle daughter has become a big jigsaw puzzle fan. Her dining room table is regularly plastered with scattered pieces, from her latest challenge.

How ambitious would you be, if you were choosing a jigsaw puzzle? You could go for sheer size. The world’s largest jigsaw puzzle has 33,600 pieces, is so heavy it comes in a solid wood box with its own carrying handle and takes almost a year to complete, even for an expert.

It’s not just size that makes a puzzle difficult. A 1000 thousand piece puzzle doesn’t sound too hard, until you realise it is double sided, with a mirror image of the front picture on the back. 654 pieces sounds positively easy, until you realise it is blank – no picture at all!

Take a look
here to see if you fancy your chances against any of these puzzles!

I would never dream of puzzling over a jigsaw. If ever I were given one, the box would remain firmly closed. I wouldn’t have the energy or the motivation to spend my brainpower on it. The closed box would be proof of my laziness, when it comes to puzzling.

In this week’s episode from
Mark (4:1-12) we see Jesus taking delight in getting people puzzling. The rewards for completing his puzzles are far more precious than any jigsaw.

Mark has already shown us Jesus the teacher. Not just any teacher, an amazingly popular one. Wherever he went he was mobbed by crowds. They weren’t there just for the miracles, either. They didn’t all go home again, once Jesus finished healing the blind or casting out demons. They stayed on and listened to his teaching. What was it about his message that drew huge crowds to him, wherever he went? What was so magnetic about his words?

Today we are going to find out. We’ll hear a direct report from those first heard him. We’ll find out what pulled people in from far and wide. We’ll discover how he did it.

The scene is set. A baking hot day, by the lake. Jesus is being mobbed again by a huge crowd. There are so many he has nowhere safe to stand on the shore. He borrows a boat and goes out onto the lake. He sits, as teachers did in those days and begins to teach…

Mark wants you to hear for yourself what Jesus had to say. Have a quick read of

Isn’t it the most earthshattering and amazing thing you have ever heard?

Be honest now… it probably wasn’t, was it?

Did you make any sense of it at all? So long as you haven’t “cheated” and read further on, to get to the secret meaning, I doubt if you did get much from it. We’ll get to that explanation together, next week.

Why on earth would crowds flock to Jesus, to hear stuff like this?

Have you ever heard a good storyteller? Some of you may not be old enough to remember him (check him out on YouTube, if that is you) but one of my favourites is comedian Jasper Carrot. If you read a script of one of his stories, it would look quite ordinary. You have to see him, to feel him weave his magic. His gestures, the tone of his voice, the look on his face all pull you in and absorb you into the story. You chuckle and smile, totally hooked as the story unfolds. The mystique, not to mention the humour, is in the man himself, rather than just the words.

Judging by the crowds he drew and held, Jesus was every bit as good as Jasper Carrot. All we have left of Jesus’ teaching, though, are the words. We can’t see the twinkle in his eyes, or the expression on his face as the stories unfold. All this is left to the imagination. Despite that, even in the bare words of Jesus we can still see a “wicked” sense of humour and a winsome whiff of mischief.

The crowds were content to lap up the stories. Miracles, verbal punch-ups with the Pharisees, putdowns for the proud and pompous, funny stories… it was all there! Great entertainment. “A day by the lake with Jesus” was a terrific day out.

Yet Jesus’ followers, The Twelve and the others sticking with him, weren’t just there for the entertainment value. They knew there was more to Jesus and his teaching than attractive storytelling. They knew the “secrets of the kingdom” were wrapped up in those stories (“parables” as Mark calls them). Hidden inside them were keys to unlock mysterious treasures of a life led close to God.

They pondered and puzzled over what the parables meant. They asked Jesus for the secrets and he gladly gave them.
I would never put in the effort of puzzling over a difficult jigsaw puzzle. The lid on my box would remain closed. I will never know the delight of putting that final piece into place.

The crowd never bothered to puzzle over Jesus’ teaching. They certainly never came to him to ask for answers. They enjoyed the entertainment, but left it there. The treasures and secrets of his stories remained closed to them.

Jesus parables remain as a puzzle to us. We are invited to take them to heart and ponder them. What do they mean for us? There are secrets hidden there, waiting for you to discover. They will come to life and give you the treasures of a life led close to God.

Are you prepared to puzzle? Prepared to pray for the secrets to open out for you? If so, you are ready to come on a marvellous adventure as we unwrap the teaching of Jesus…

signed Tony