In the midst of explaining a parable to the disciples, Jesus stopped and asked them a question:
“Do you understand these things?” (Mt. 13:52)
Now, rule number one in reading Scripture is when Jesus asks a question, you answer it. You don’t keep reading to see how the Apostles or disciples answered it. You stop, put down the Bible, and answer it yourself.
I have deliberately not provided any context to the question Jesus asks above (you can look it up later if you’d like). But for now just stay with this question and apply it to any or all of Scripture. Do you understand these things?
What does it mean to understand? The Greek word that is translated as “understand” is οἴδατε (oidate), which refers to seeing that becomes knowing, seeing and laying hold of something that is a gateway to grasping spiritual truth.
So the question remains: Do you understand these things?
One of the problems for those of us who have some familiarity with the Scriptures is that they are familiar. And while it is good that the Scriptures are well known to us, it is also a problem. A passage begins and we just say, “Oh yeah, that story” and we either tune out or fail to reflect deeply.
But Scripture is always more than just a story or the facts of a text. Even ordinary human acts or words are seldom merely what they seem to be on the surface.
Consider an example my Scripture teacher, Fr. Martin, once gave. You and I are at a gathering and we observe Smith enter the room and immediately go across the room and greet Jones warmly. And I say, “Wow, look at that!” And you say, “What’s the big deal? People shake hands all the time.” And then I reply, “Smith and Jones have been enemies for thirty years.” So there is a depth and a mystery to that simple act that mere observation does not supply. The act occurs at a specific moment in time, but it has a past and points to a future. It also has a depth that must be perceived and appreciated.
And this is what Jesus is calling for when he asks, Do you understand these things? Do you grasp these parables, these teachings, these accounts and stories from Scripture? Do you perceive them with a seeing and a hearing that lead to knowledge and are a gateway to grasping spiritual truth? Or are you just seeing the surface of the text, noting the event, and then moving on?
Further, our “understanding” of them is not a static thing, but a dynamic and growing reality. With each year that we hear the familiar stories and teachings of Scripture, our understanding can and should become deeper and richer.
The Latin Fathers of the Church had a saying that the Scriptures were Non nova, sed nove (not new things, but understood newly). In other words, though the stories and teachings do not change (non nova) our appreciation of them, our grasp and understanding of them is ever new; they are seen newly (nove), appreciated more deeply.
So, as you read the Scriptures, Jesus has a question for you, “Do you understand these things?” Are you just hearing and reading ancient words and events, or are you plumbing their depths? Where are your mind and heart as you perceive the Word of God? Do you ponder it in your heart?
It is not enough to know what something meant for the Apostles or the people of Jesus’ time, or some commentator. What does it mean for you, now? How have you experienced the truth that is announced? What are the implications of the text, teaching, or story for you? Do you see something new that you never saw before?
Do you understand these things?
Here are some other questions Jesus asked: 100 Questions Jesus Asked