Intro to the Parables
Two Sundays ago, after spending the majority of the year in the Sermon on the Mount, we began a new series on Jesus’ parables. At the outset of this new journey, we began looking at what exactly parables are and how they were used. Are they stories? Yes, but also much more than that. Parables are stories that teach truths and principles through various illustrations. While much of the teaching we hear today is focused on the teaching points and makes sure to stick to them, Jesus would emphasize the breadth and depth of a truth by showing it in living color, so-to-speak, through stories.
These stories served many functions as they shined a light on the goodness of God and the gospel Jesus was teaching. One function was to take deep truths and make them both relatable and understandable for the typical, everyday person. Rather than spouting platitudes that would not make sense to the blue-collar rural folk in Galilee, he used agricultural illustrations that related to their lives. For instance, the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13 could make sense to them because they knew about harvesting wheat and the issue weeds presented. They could then see that illustration and learn about the end of the age and the rise of both righteousness and wickedness that occurs before Christ returns. On the other side of the coin, however, the parables shrouded truth. This shrouding happened to inspire his hearers (and subsequent readers) to seek this wisdom like silver and search for it as for hidden treasure (Proverbs 2:4). As we seek this wisdom and come to God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, it will be given to us (James 1:5).
One thing we should be cautious about, in my opinion, is how easy it is to read the parables simply as moral or ethical teachings about Biblical issues. More than simple Sunday school stories or felt-board imagery, Jesus’ parables were powerful statements about the Kingdom of God, the One who reigns over it, and the values through which he governs. When Jesus taught the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), he wasn’t only teaching about kindness and helping those in need. He was highlighting issues of racial, geographic, and religious prejudice. When he taught the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25), he was illustrating the importance of being prepared for his coming amid the earth’s darkest day, and the vital role that intimacy with him plays in that preparedness. We also see the defining features of the citizens of his Kingdom being mercy (Unforgiving Servant, Matthew 18; Prodigal Son, Luke 15), persistent prayer (Friend at Midnight, Luke 11; Persistent Widow, Luke 18), humility (Guests at the Table, Luke 14; Pharisee and Tax Collector, Luke 18), and faithfulness (Two Sons, Matthew 21; Talents, Matthew 25), amongst others.
As we take this journey together over the upcoming months, may we approach the Scriptures with soft hearts, open ears, and prayerful devotion.