These are Yeshua’s words in Mark 4:11. But most of us do not believe him. We see all around us religious empires built on the simplistic understanding of “those outside.” I will attempt in this article to prove my words. I will argue that Yeshua’s methods do certainly live on, but they are not commonly employed. I will argue that, thankfully, by the Spirit and the scriptures there is some clear-headed thinking out there. But even good religious leaders are confused by the groundswell of “crowd” thinking.
What is the nature of the crowds of thousands on the hills of Galilee? What do the religious crowds of today have in common with the ones then? And how does the nature of the outer circle confuse even the faithful in this age of too-little-thinking about what Yeshua actually did with disciples?
People often fall into a sort of group-think and leave their brains behind. It happens to all of us. Our brains turn to mush when we face the overwhelming power of a crowd united on a purpose. It is a human failing we would do well to remember.
I’m not arguing for individualism. I’m not praising the independent thinker who remains aloof from others. I believe in community and that humans are essentially relational beings. We exist for the other.
But I am arguing that it is not in the great crowds that we find community. The great crowds are the outer circle to whom everything is in parables. We need community with the inner circle surrounding Yeshua. I hope and pray all who read this know where an inner circle is and that you are part of one. It is likely a sub-group in your congregation. I’m not talking about perfection, but the kind of people who are devoted first and foremost to Yeshua.
What do we give our allegiance to? The outer circle in Yeshua’s time gave their allegiance to certain ideas of revolution and renewal that were human-initiated. Although no one dared start anything, the crowds gave allegiance to the notion, “Somebody ought to do something to fix all this that is wrong.”
And any old demagogue with the chutzpah to risk execution could step up and lead such a crowd. But Yeshua refused to be that demagogue. See my “Messianic Secret” chapter in Yeshua in Context for more about that.
What are the sort of thoughtless, not-really-about-Yeshua, populist ideas that stir up a religious crowd in our time?
(1) Don’t be a “liberal” in reading the Bible. Just say that there are no problems and that scripture is simple, requires no education to understand, and speaks with one voice on all matters. (I put liberal in quotes because it is a useless adjective used only to denounce people when we don’t have anything substantive to say instead.)
(2) Be against things in the social sphere that are easy to denounce but which we would rather not get our hands dirty doing anything about (“no gay marriage,” “no unfair and illegal immigration,” etc.).
(3) We need to get more people into heaven and have Big Box places of worship with cool music.
(4) Jesus is a democrat.
(5) Jesus is a republican.
(6) Jesus would come to Tea Party rallies.
The Outer Circle in Galilee
What sorts of things did the outer circle hear in parables and what are likely associations they had? What was Yeshua criticizing in his generation specifically?
A sower went out to sow . . . seed. At last! Somebody is going to do something. The seed of Isaiah 6:13 is about to take root and Israel will come out of exile and be renewed. Let’s sharpen our swords.
the sun rose and it was scorched . . . other seed fell among the thorns. Cowards. They should be more committed than that to getting those chief priests out of the Temple and putting Rome back in its place.
some fell on the good soil and it produced fruit. Numbers. Power. Viva la revolution.
Mustard seed. Small. Greatest shrub. Numbers. Power. Woohoo!
I hope I’m not being too subtle. If you aren’t getting what I’m saying, my chapter on “Seeds and Fruit” in Yeshua in Context might help.
This post isn’t really about the stuff Yeshua said to the inner circle, but I want to at least say enough to make sure you see clearly the dichotomy in understanding. To the inner circle Yeshua clarifies: don’t be like the gentiles, don’t worry about money and clothes, don’t lord it over one another, be the servant of all, move mountains with faith and patience and prayer, and my power is perfected in weakness.
Reading the Bible with Yeshua
Those who came into the inner circle are described simply in Mark 4: those who were about him with the Twelve asked him concerning the parables….
The difference between the inner circle around Yeshua and the outer circle is that the inner circle drew close, asked questions, and dug deeper.
The definition of being insider with Yeshua is not trumpeting empty expressions of allegiance to popular ideas and taking comfort in powers and the numbers of the masses who follow mindlessly and without an ounce of selfless service.
It is to draw near. To read the holy scriptures. To seek the heart of God in the words of prophets and apostles.
It has nothing to do with ignorance or ignoring. Show me in the Bible a place where God counsels people to ignore difficulties or affirm a problem-free faith. Read Psalms. Read Yeshua’s words. Do we see an ignore-the-problems kind of faith?
The inner circle asks about the seed and the sower and the mustard plant.
But, even the inner circle doesn’t get its strength from mere knowledge and study. The inner circle forsakes and flees (Mark 14:50) when the going gets tough. What transforms and empowers the inner circle? It is a combination of deep engagement and something else: the living presence of Yeshua. The inner circle doesn’t get the clue until after the resurrection. Then the time Yeshua spent with them and the teaching and dialogue all begins to pay off.
Nothing Wrong with a Crowd, but Community is Better
So, great crowds gather. The problem is not the crowds. The problem is when people never make it past the level of the being in the crowd.
There is nothing wrong with being in a tiny, medium-sized, large, or gargantuan congregation.
There is something wrong with not seeking a smaller community within and drawing near with the inner circle.
There is something wrong with affirming the populist shallowness and not getting beyond it to where the Psalmists and Yeshua dwell.
The Bible is not, after all, a populist book with easy answers. And life only seems to work according to easy answers when you are on top and secure and virtually trouble-free. Populist faith may sound good, but it won’t help you at all on the day of birth pains of the Messiah.