According to one definition, “A parable is a succinct, didactic story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive lessons or principles. It differs from a fable in that fables employ animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature as characters, whereas parables have human characters. A parable is a type of analogy.”1
Jesus used parables because He understood the attraction that people have to stories. Although raw data and information (theology) are useful, stories draw us into their realm and engage us in ways that raw information cannot. “Once upon a time” is that magical line that can cause us all to lay aside whatever we are doing to enter into the experience.
Why Jesus Used Parables
“His disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?’ He replied, ‘You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables, for they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand” (Matthew 13:10-13, NLT).
It is clear that many, including the Pharisees, did not understand who Jesus was or understand what He was saying. They didn’t discern the meaning of His words, even though they heard them. Was this by design on God’s part? Jesus said, “To those who listen…more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away.” Because they weren’t listening, God hid the truth from them.
The Gospel and Mission of Jesus
The Gospel is good news for those who are receptive. For those who aren’t—it is a bewildering maze of gibberish and silly nonsense. Paul explained it this way:
“When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means” (1 Corinthians 2:13-14, NLT).
On more than one occasion, the disciples themselves misunderstood what Jesus had said about His mission. Speaking of His death, He told them several times what would happen, but each time they either became sullen and confused, or they openly resisted the thought. On one occasion Jesus rebuked Peter and told him he was being influenced by the devil.
What are you listening to today? What am I hearing? Are we receptive to what God is saying and doing?
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Rich DuBose writes from Northern California.
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