Isa al Masih (PBUH) teaches – with Parables

We have seen how Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught with unique authority. He also taught using stories that illustrated true principles. For example, we saw how he taught about the Kingdom of God using the story of a Great Banquet, and how he taught about forgiveness through the story of the Unmerciful Servant. These stories are called parables, and Isa al Masih (PBUH) is unique among prophets and teachers in how much he used parables to teach, and how striking his parables are. His disciples asked him on one occasion why he taught by using parables. The Injil records his explanation:

10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (Matthew 13:10-13)

His last sentence was a recitation of the prophet Isaiah (PBUH) who lived 700 BC and had warned against a hardening of our hearts. In other words, sometimes we do not understand something because we missed the explanation or it was too complex to comprehend. In such a situation a clear explanation dispels the confusion. But there are other times when we do not understand because deep down inside our hearts we do not want to. We may not admit this, so we keep asking questions as if a lack of mental comprehension is our block. But if the confusion is in our hearts and not in our minds then no explanation will be sufficient. The problem then is that we are unwilling to submit, not that we cannot mentally understand.

When the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught in parables, the effect on the crowd that he was teaching was dramatic. Those that simply did not understand with their minds would become curious from the story and inquire further, gaining understanding, while those who were unwilling to submit would treat the story with contempt and disinterest and they would get no further understanding. Using parables was a way for the master teacher to separate people as the farmer separates wheat from chaff by winnowing. Those who were willing to submit were separated from those who were not willing. Those people unwilling to submit would find the parable confusing since their hearts were unwilling to submit to its truth. Though seeing, they would not see the point.

Parable of the Sower and the Four Soils

When the disciples were asking the prophet Isa (PBUH) the question about his teaching in parables, he had been teaching a group of parables on the Kingdom of God and its effect on people. Here is the first:

Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9)

So what did this parable mean? We do not have to guess, since those who had hearts willing to submit were intrigued by the parable and asked for its meaning, which he gave:

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

We can see that there are four responses to the message about the Kingdom of God. The first has no ‘understanding’ and so the devil (Iblis) takes the message away from their hearts. The remaining three responses are all initially very positive and they receive the message with joy. But this message must grow in our hearts through difficult times. It is not just to be acknowledged in our minds to then continue living our lives as we want. So two of these responses, though they initially received the message, did not allow it to grow in their heart. Only the fourth heart, who ‘hears the word and understands it’ would truly submit in the way that Allah was looking for.

One point of this parable is to make us ask the question; ‘which of these persons am I?’  Only those who truly ‘understand’ will become a good crop. One way to strengthen understanding is to clearly see what the previous prophets, beginning with Adam, revealed about the will and plan of God through the Taurat and Zabur. This is why we began with these first prophets. After Adam, important Signs in the Taurat come from the promise to Ibrahim (PBUH) and his sacrifice, Musa (PBUH), the Ten Commandments, Harun (PBUH). In the Zabur, understanding the origin of ‘Masih’, and the revelations of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Daniel and Malachi will also prepare us to understand the ‘message of the Kingdom of God’.

The Parable of the Weeds

After the explanation of this parable the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught the parable about weeds.

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Here is the explanation he gave

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast

The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) also taught some very brief parables.

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about thirty kilograms of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

In other words, the Kingdom of God would start small and insignificant in this world but would then grow throughout the world like yeast working through the dough and like a small seed growing into a large plant. It does not happen by force, or all at once, its growth is invisible but everywhere and unstoppable.

Parables of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl of Great Value

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13: 44-46)

These parables focus on the value of the Kingdom of God. Think of a treasure which is hidden in a field. Since it is hidden everyone passing by the field thinks the field is of little value and thus they have no interest in it. But someone realizes there is a treasure there making the field very valuable – valuable enough to sell everything in order to buy it and get the treasure. So it is with the Kingdom of God – a value unnoticed by most, but the few that see its worth will gain great value.

The Parable of the Net

47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The Kingdom of God will separate people. This separation will be fully revealed on the Day of Judgment – when hearts are laid bare.

We can see that the Kingdom of God grows mysteriously, like yeast in dough, that it has great value which is hidden from most, and that it causes different responses among people. It also separates people between those that understand and those that do not. After teaching these parables the prophet Isa al Masih then asked his listeners an important question.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

“Yes,” they replied.

What about you?

The Masih Revealed – by Teaching with Authority

After Isa al Masih (PBUH) was tempted by Shaytan (Iblis) he started to minister as a prophet with a unique teaching. This is especially seen in what is now called his Sermon on the Mount recorded in the Injil. You can read the complete Sermon on the Mount here. I summarize some highlights, and then we make a startling connection from what the Prophet Musa predicted in the Taurat. Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught the following:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Adultery

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Divorce

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Oaths

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Eye for Eye

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The Masih and the Sermon on the Mount

You can see that Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught with the form “You have heard that it was said … But I tell you … ”. In this structure he usually quotes first from the Taurat, and then extends the scope of the command to motives, thoughts and words to a degree that is astonishing.  Isa al Masih taught by taking strict commands given through the Prophet Musa (PBUH) and made them even much more difficult to do!

But what is also remarkable is the reason that he extends the commands of the Taurat. He does so based on his own authority. He says simply ‘But I tell you…’ and with that he increases the scope of the command. This is one thing that was very unique about Isa al Masih. As the Injil states when he had finished this Sermon

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Matthew 7:28-29)

Indeed, Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught as one who had great authority. Most prophets were only messengers that passed on a message from Allah, but here it was different. Why could Isa al Masih do this? As the ‘Masih’ which we saw here was a title given in the Zabur of a coming one, he had great authority. Psalm 2 of Zabur, where the Title of ‘Masih’ was first given described Allah speaking to the Masih in the following way

and I (Allah) will make the nations your (Masih’s) inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. (Psalm 2:8)

The Masih was given authority over the nations, even to the end of the earth. So as the Masih, Isa had the authority to teach in the way he did.

The Prophet and the Sermon on the Mount

In fact, as we saw here, in the Taurat, the prophet Musa (PBUH) had predicted the coming of ‘the Prophet’, who would be noted in the way he taught. Musa had written

I (Allah) will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that The Prophet speaks in my name. (Deuteronomy 18: 18-19)

In teaching the way he did, Isa was exercising his authority as the Masih and fulfilling the prophecy of Musa of The Prophet who would teach with great authority. He was both Masih AND The Prophet.

You & me and the Sermon on the Mount

If you study carefully this Sermon on the Mount to see how you should live then you are probably confused. How can anyone live these kinds of commands that lay bare our hearts and our motives? What was Isa al Masih’s intent in giving this Sermon?  We can see the answer from his concluding sentence.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

Notice that this is a command, not a suggestion. His requirement is that we be perfect! Why? Because God is perfect and if we are to be with Him in Paradise nothing less than perfect will do. We often think that perhaps simply more good than bad deeds – that will be sufficient. But if that were the case, and Allah let us enter his Paradise, we would destroy the perfection of Paradise and turn it into the mess that we have in this world. It is our lust, greed, anger that destroys our lives here today. If we go to Paradise still holding onto that lust, greed and anger than that Paradise will quickly become like this world – full of problems made by ourselves.

In fact, much of Isa al Masih’s teaching focused on our inner hearts rather than outward ceremony.  Consider how, in another teaching, he focuses on our inward hearts.

He (Isa) went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder,  adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”  (Mark 7:20-23)

So what is going on inside us is very important and the required standard is perfection.  Allah will only let the ‘perfect’ into his perfect paradise. But though that may sound fine in theory it raises a huge problem: How will we get into this Paradise if we are not perfect? The utter impossibility of us being perfect enough could cause us to despair. And that is what he wants! When we despair of ever being good enough, when we stop trusting in our own possible merits then we become ‘poor in spirit’. And Isa al Masih, in starting this whole Sermon, said:

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3)

The beginning of wisdom for us is not to dismiss these teachings as not applying to us. They do! The standard is to ‘Be perfect’. As we let that standard sink into us, and realize that we are not capable of that, then we are starting down the Straight Way. We start down this Straight Way because, recognizing our inadequacy, we may be more ready to accept help than if we thought we could do it by our own merits.