What’s a Parable?
By Joel Greenwood
The tortoise and the hare is a fable with almost universal notoriety. You know, the story of the turtle beating the rabbit in a race. I didn’t ponder it’s meaning when I initially heard it in my first grade class, but one day several years later, it popped into my mind out of nowhere as I raced to finish my homework so I could play outside. A small voice in my mind told me to work slowly and thoughtfully, since racing through would end in failure, just like for the rabbit. Where did that come from?
Simple, memorable stories stick with us and affect us later, and Jesus knew this as he taught crowds in parables. Parables are, most simply, comparisons. Jesus would use a few words to compare something universally known to the kingdom of God, and that would be it. He didn’t offer detailed explanations or further discourse, leaving the hearer to figure out what it meant.
“Then he told them many things in parables…”
With around 46 parables in the New Testament, it is important for us to understand why Jesus taught using them, rather than simply “telling it like it is.”
On the Surface:
Parables are short stories with a moral.
With few exceptions, you can read each parable of Jesus and see a moral in it. One lost sheep? Jesus cares deeply for the lost. Good Samaritan? Love your enemies. House on the sand? God is our foundation.
Parables present timeless truths.
2,000 years later, we can still hear parables and feel the truth of Jesus’ teaching coursing through them. Losing valuable items, planting seeds, and going to feasts are situations that are still relatable today, and the truths that come through them are timeless as well.
On a Deeper Level:
When Jesus spoke to crowds in parables, he received a mixed response.
If someone thought Jesus was wise, they left with an even higher regard for him. If someone thought he was crazy, they heard him talk about scattering seeds on thorns and left, thinking he was even crazier than they first imagined. The power in parables is that they are able to help the growing Christian grow, while also hiding the meaning of the kingdom to those with hardened hearts.
The Word of God is alive and active, and one of the best ways this is displayed is through the parable-teaching of Jesus. Spend time in the parables, allow them to stick with you, and, to summarize Jesus in Matthew 13:9, “If you’ve got ears, then use ‘em!”