A Sting in the Tale

I’m very much looking forward to getting into the Parables of Jesus with you this spring. Some people have described parables as being small stories that teach big ideas. Like the rabbis of his time, Jesus used images and characters from everyday life to create miniature plays or dramas, called parables, to enhance his message. This was Jesus most common way of teaching.

Most of us are quite familiar with the content of the parables. Even people who know very little about the Bible are aware of the story lines in many of the parables. Such familiarity is wonderful but also dangerous. Below I have included five things that you may or may not know about the parables. I’m hoping the points will, in a way, grease the skids to a better understanding as we take a look at Jesus’ parables.

Stuff You May Not Have Known About the Parables:

  • Jesus told parables, not to clarify truth, but to cloak it.

There is this idea going around that pastors should tell more stories because, after all, Jesus told stories.  I’m all in for a good story. Really! But frankly if I or any other preacher told stories like Jesus told stories we wouldn’t make it to next Sunday.  Here’s why:  Jesus didn’t tell stories – he told parables. There’s a huge difference. Granted stories and parables have several similarities but the primary purpose of a good story is to illustrate a truth in order to communicate a principle or lesson.  Parables, on the other hand, serve to hide truth in plain sight of what appears to be a story.

  • It appears that the Disciples were frustrated by Jesus’ use of parables.

As good a teacher as Jesus was, there were times he simply did not get across to his disciples – especially when he used parables.  This seemed to frustrate the disciples because in John 16:29 they express relief that they can actually understand what their Master was teaching.

  • Most parables carry one main point/lesson.

The parables are not literary scavenger hunts.[1] Thinking deeply about them could get you in trouble to the point where you inject meaning Jesus never intended to convey.  One rule of thumb introduced by theologian Craig Blomberg is that there is one learning point per character in the parable. Consider the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) as an example.  There are three primary characters in the parable – a father and two sons.  I think it’s safe to say that each of these three characters teach us something.  But the place where it can get dicey is when we supply meaning to the pigs or the cloak or the fattened calf.  Probably not what Jesus had in mind.

  • The parables have nothing to do with our morality but with God’s Kingdom. 

In fact it’s probably more accurate to call the parables of Jesus, “wisdom scenes” as opposed to mere stories. The parables were not Jesus’ way of “home-spinning” mysterious spiritual truth. Each parable functions as a scene in the Kingdom of God. That’s why we often get into trouble when we over think the parables and conclude that every little component has significant spiritual meaning.  Nope.

  • The parables were meant to sift, not gather. 

An interesting thing happens in Luke 8. Humongous crowds are gathering around Jesus to hear his teaching and see displays of his power.  After the crowd had gathered he told the Parable of the Sower. When asked by the disciples what the parable meant Jesus responded, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables so that seeing they may not see and hearing they may not understand” (v.10).  Huh?  Apparently tucked in the very familiar and easy to listen to parable of a farmer planting seeds are secrets of the Kingdom of God that only certain people would get. Is it possible that Jesus taught in such a way that he deliberately discouraged people from following him? Stay tuned. We’ll cover this particular parable next week.

Don’t let the mystery of the parables scare you off from our new teaching series entitled,A Sting In the Tale. There is much for us to learn from Jesus as well as his Kingdom. This Sunday our focus passage will be Luke 4:14-30.  As you read you’ll find that there is no parable to be seen.  Don’t worry.  What Luke has to teach us here will assist us in understanding the parables to follow.

Hope to see you there.

Craig

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