The Parables

      The Parables of Jesus are part of the Gospels so what was said about the Gospels holds true for the parables.  Yet there are several reasons we need to treat them separately.

The Parables have a long history of misinterpretation.  Fee & Stewart suggest this comes from a misunderstanding of such passages as Mark 4:10-12

“And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. [11] And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of thekingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, [12] so that “they may indeed see but not perceive,and may indeed hear but not understand,lest they should turn and be forgiven. 

      Because the meaning seemed to be mysterious, many chose to interpret the parables in a symbolic or allegorical way.  They looked for a secret or hidden meaning.  For example
St. Augustine suggested a special meaning for every part of the story of the Good Samaritan:  The man who was beat up represents Adam; the thieves are the devil and his angels; his nakedness was his loss of immortality: and so forth for at least 17 elements.

  • Parables come in kinds.  True Parable or Story (Good Samaritan); Similitude or Illustration (Leaven in the Meal); Metaphor (Salt of the Earth); Epigram (“Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes…”).  It is not possible to make one rule for explaining all parables.  Yet it should be noted that no parable is an Allegory.
  • The Function of a Parable is to call for a response from the hearer.  Sometimes explaining a parable is like explaining a joke – we understand the parts but loose the “punch”.  Our interpretations should recapture this call to decision quality of the original telling.
  • Find the points of reference.  In Luke 7:40-42 the points of reference are the two debtors and the moneylender, which correspond to Simon, the woman who washed Jesus feet and God.  Unlike an allegory, not every element is a point of reference. Luke 7:40-42

    And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”     [41] “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”  

  • Identify the audience.  Fee & Steward suggest that we should try hearing the parable as the first audience would have heard it.  In the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) Jesus is trying to get the Pharisee to see that he can not limit God’s command for him to love by trying to limit the category of “neighbor.”
  • Parables of the  Kingdom of God.  When we read, “The Kingdom of God is like” we should understand that the whole parable is in view.  “The

    Kingdom of
    God is alike a mustard seed, which….”   So we discover what aspect of the mustard seed is like the Kingdom.  These parables are not just informational; they also call for a response.  E.g. the Sower – Mark 4:3-10.  Our response to the Gospel message is what is important.

  • To teach a parable with the intended “punch” we might try to bring the same story into our context.  What if the Good Samaritan was about an automobile accident, and the pastor and then the leader of the Boy Scout troop passed by, but the local and vocal atheist stopped to help.  Could the Atheist be the good neighbor?


            Read Matthew 13 and for each parable in this chapter, answer these questions

  1. What is the situation?
  2. Who is Jesus’ audience?
  3. What are the main reference points?
  4. What is Jesus point?
  5. How could I retell this story with “punch”?


The Sower                               The Mustard Seed                                The Weeds


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