In response to the question of why he teaches in parables, Jesus says "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12 so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN." (Mark 4:11-12)
Several questions arise from Jesus' answer:
1. Does Jesus use parables to intentionally prevent some from seeing, hearing, repenting, etc.?
2. What exactly does the phrase "mystery of the kingdom of God" mean?
3. How does the "citation" of Isa 6:9 fit with the larger context of Mark?
4. How does the larger context of Mark illuminate Jesus' statement here?
I think this is a great set of questions. I'm convinced that Jesus is undertaking an Isaiah-like ministry to the remnant who he is drawing into his kingdom. Isaiah's ministry was to deafen, blind and harden - to hasten the coming of Yahweh's judgment on idolatrous Israel. Jesus is now bringing Israel out of their exile, through a kind of New Exodus, the center of which is his work as king in establishing his kingdom through is life, cross and resurrection. Some will hear what Jesus has to say, obey, follow him, perceive, and believe in him. Others will go away hardened, troubled, angry or doubting. We might want a Jesus whose message is palatable and easy to receive. Though his yoke is light, the response he requires is repentance and humility, and the courage to follow him. And what is most striking of all, and which comes out clearly not only in the Synoptics but in John as well, is that these same disciples to whom he has given the "mystery of the Kingdom" are the same one's who fail to love him, fail to perceive, fail to really believe in him before and after his resurrection - some even remain doubting prior to his ascension. And yet this little band of spirit filled disciples become perhaps the greatest missionaries the church has ever seen. There is grace here. God reaches out to needy sinners in the gospel to save them through Jesus Christ, empowering a response of faith and obedience.