Question: As I understand it, Jesus came as the Savior for all. Yet Jesus spoke in parables, and when asked why, he says that knowledge of the mysteries of heaven has not been granted to everyone (Mt 13:10-17). I am puzzled, as it seems as if Jesus is speaking in code and purposely excluding many, especially those in most need of his mercy. Would you please help me understand?
— Robert McBride, Cheswick, Pennsylvania
Answer: It may seem in this passage that God (somewhat arbitrarily) grants knowledge of the Kingdom to some but not to others. Yet we ought to note that the Lord explains himself, and that his explanation discloses the part we play in the reception of the gift of the Kingdom.
Regarding those to whom the knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom is not given, the Lord says: “For this people’s heart has grown callous; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn, and I would heal them” (Mt 13:15-16).
So the Lord wants to heal them, but their hardened hearts and resistant minds mean that they just won’t listen or be converted. To them, the Lord speaks in parables, most of which are in the form of a riddle. Riddles have the capacity to both disclose and hide. As such, they incite curiosity, and curiosity is actually a good way to engage people who are otherwise disinterested in what is being said. In effect, people are left asking questions and may be drawn to seek answers.
Ideally, our hearts are open to hearing the truth. And in this context, a more thorough and lengthy teaching disclosing more of the mysteries of the Kingdom is suitable. And to such as these the Lord says, “Blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear” (Mt 13:16). In other words, you receive blessings because you are willing to listen and have not hardened your hearts.
In the end, the teaching for us is that we should not, through hardened hearts, force God to speak to us in riddles. Rather through open and tender hearts permit him to speak to us at length and usher us into the mysteries of the Kingdom.
Question: I heard a Protestant use the story of the good thief on the cross to say that instant salvation at an “altar call” is possible. What are your thoughts?
— Paul VanHoudt, Erie, Pennsylvania
Answer: Part of his claim hinges on an interpretation of Jesus’ words that are not consistent with the context of Jesus’ words. If “today” is interpreted literally, then the words were not fulfilled for the good thief. Jesus himself did not go to paradise that very day. Rather, he descended to Sheol, to the place of the dead.
So, Jesus by using the word “today,” does not necessarily mean “this very day, before sundown.” Further, the Greek text also can be read to say: “And so today I tell you, you will be with me in paradise.”
Yet even in the Catholic understanding, “instant (or quick) salvation” is possible if one is baptized and dies shortly thereafter without sin. But baptism followed by quick death is rare. Further, the Catholic understanding of “salvation” is not a mere change in legal status (as many Protestants understand it). Salvation means being in heaven. More commonly, the Catholic Church uses this passage of the good thief to illustrate “baptism of desire” and not altar calls, etc.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.