Part 1: Why Study Parables?
I’ve bee re-reading Jesus’ parables lately after my pastor spent quite a long time talking about a few of them. One statement made by the disciples really stuck in my head, causing me to spend the rest of my Sunday thinking about it. In the book of Matthew, chapter 13 verse 10 the disciples ask Jesus,
“Master, why do you speak to the people in parables?” (NIV)
In the Bible, Jesus gives this answer to their question:
“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 he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (NIV)
I believe there are also some very human reasons why Jesus did this. Have you ever tried to tell someone, a friend or your kids for example, that what they were doing was wrong? Usually, it doesn’t go over very well does it? They make excuses; they argue the point, rationalize or even get downright angry!
It’s easy for us to feel a kind of self-satisfaction when seeing others do wrong and knowing it is wrong, the first thing we want to do is call them on it. But that’s not what Jesus wants you to do. Jesus said in Matthew 11:29
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (NIV)
Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.”(NIV)
Jesus has great compassion for us. His understanding of our motivations and our pain was even greater than our own. He knew that for most people hearing the truth about their bad behavior was more than they could tolerate. He also knew that those whose hearts were open to the truth would see it, own it, and become better for it; even when it came in the form of a parable.
That doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t challenge his listeners. Imagine being a man or woman of Jesus’ generation. You live and die by the Commandments and all of the regulations and rules imposed by the Pharisees and Sanhedrin. It is a matter of survival! To go against these powerful leaders could often result in being ostracized from society, shunned, and even stoned.
The teachings of Jesus were radical! Here’s this guy from a place with less than a stellar reputation saying things that almost seemed like blasphemy! Almost, but not quite. You could feel it; that kernel of truth that found a way into your mind and stuck there like a tune that won’t leave you alone. He infected them with the truth and they would never be the same. He did it in parables, as many as 46 of them, though, there is some debate on the issue.
Over the next few months we’ll be examining these parables, their context, their audience, and their many layers. Hopefully we can dispel these and learn to understand one of Jesus’ most valuable teaching tools in a way that allows us to apply them to our own lives here and now.
In our next post we’ll be looking at the following:
- Parable #1 — Matthew 9:16 — New Cloth Patch on an Old Coat
- Parable #2 — Matthew 9:17 — New Wine in Old Wineskins
- Parable #3 — Matthew 5:14-15 — Lamp on a Stand
- Parable #4 — Luke 6:46-49 — The Wise and Foolish Builders
If you feel motivated, read ahead!