In parables

Matthew 13:10-17
10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”
11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.
12 “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.
13 “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
14 “And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:
‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
15 “‘For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’
16 “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear;
17 “for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

Most of us grew up reading Aesop’s fables, those fanciful stories about animals who did good things and learned lessons by being more “human.” The irony, of course, is that the animals in those fables were more human than many people are, and so it made the stories all that more memorable. In today’s culture, such simple stories seem to have no place. The ancient stories have been replaced by modern children’s books, some of which are thinly-veiled retellings of those old fables, many of which attempt to put a modern spin on the stories by using humans instead of animals. And Aesop’s fables aren’t the only parables to get modernized: even the parables of Jesus get brought up-to-date with modern repackaging. In one form or another, we have all likely seen modern variations on the stories of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son or even the Parable of the Sower. Or we have seen those parables simplified, with Christ’s specific messages removed in favor of a secular version of the Golden Rule.

Today we tend to gloss over the parables of Jesus because they have been retold so often. We think we understand the parable of the wheat and tares because Jesus explained it just a few verses later. And we think we understand the parable of the sower because Jesus explained that one, too. The parables have become a kind of shorthand among the faithful, because we do know them so well and their interpretations have been recorded right there in our Bibles. We don’t see the parables of Jesus with the same innocence as the disciples or those people sitting on the shore as Jesus taught. We don’t sit and contemplate these things to see if they resonate within us. We don’t open our eyes and our ears to see if we can understand the parables WITHOUT Jesus’ explanations.

In those first days as Jesus taught the people of Galilee and Judea, He rarely fully explained the parables to the masses. They undoubtedly walked away scratching their heads. As in the parable of the sower, some would have heard Jesus’ words and nothing would make sense, and some would have heard Him and thought they understood for a while until their worldly lives came into conflict with His teachings, and some–a precious few–would have treasured His words until such time as they took root in their hearts and bore fruit in repentance and faith.

But why speak in parables at all? Because the kingdom of God is for those to whom God has chosen to reveal it.

Matthew 11:25-26
25 At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.
26 “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.”

John 14:25-26
25 “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you.
26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”

And so, for those whose hearts are open to the Holy Spirit, the parables will make sense–perhaps not right away, but more so as time goes on and their faith grows. Look at how Jesus phrased it:

“For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”

Whoever has faith, more faith will be given. Whoever has hope, to them more hope will be given. Whoever has love, to them more love will be given.

But for those who do not repent and have faith in the only Son of God, all that they have will be taken away in the fires of perdition. The seed will fall on hard ground in those without faith, and those who are not fruitful will be considered among the tares that must be burnt up. In those without faith, the kingdom of God will not blossom and grow from a tiny seed into a shelter for God’s creatures. In those without faith, the kingdom of God will have no value, will never be seen as worth more than all they have.

Parables are for those willing to listen. But are we willing to listen today? Each year, hundreds of Christian books hit the markets and are bought up in the millions by hungry believers, and yet according to surveys, very few Christians actually read the Bible itself outside of church or Sunday school. So much of what modern Christians know about the Bible comes not from the Bible itself but from other sources. They watch a film or listen to a recording of a sermon. They read the latest bestseller or they seek out a tract or a book recommended to them. Worse yet, they get much of their theology uncritically from popular media such as movies and television. And yet we all have the words of our Savior right in front of us. We have all that the first Christians ever had–and MORE–and yet we do not avail ourselves of it. We are a lazy generation, wanting to be spoon-fed the Bible and its wisdom rather than seeking out its nourishment for ourselves. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for someone trying to get through to the masses with books that expand on a particular theme from Jesus’ teachings. But when modern teachings become our primary source of knowledge about the Bible, then something is wrong.

So Jesus taught in parables to test the people, to challenge them in their faith, to see if God had yet opened their hearts to His wisdom. The stories are illustrative and instructive, and they can teach us much if we are willing to listen and meditate on them. If we have not hardened our hearts, and if our eyes and ears are open in faith, then we will gain much from Jesus’ parables. But if we are still seeking after signs and wonders, if we are looking for secret formulae to lead us to God, we will not find them there. The truth is that Jesus alone is the way to God, and all His words, all His parables, point back to Him.

I would challenge every believer to read the Word of God with new eyes, to seek the precious pearls to be found in Jesus’ parables with new innocence. Let us set aside all we THINK we know about what Jesus said and just read His words as if we are hearing them for the first time. Let us approach our Bibles with simple faith, knowing that the church of Jesus Christ was built not on the words of later believers but on the very Word of God itself. Let us understand not with our heads but with our hearts, so that we seek out Jesus just as He is–wise and gracious, loving and merciful, powerful and longsuffering, righteous and true. Let us allow ourselves to be taught in parables just like those first believers, allowing the seeds of Jesus’ teachings to grow in our hearts to greater faith and love than we have ever known.

Our Father in heaven, how precious are Your thoughts to me! I love Your Word, and I cannot ever read it but I learn something new. Lead me into Your wisdom, O Lord, and open to me the simple truths of the ancient words set down by Your prophets and apostles. And, Lord God, let me also be able to teach from Your Word, so that others may have the seeds of the gospel planted in their hearts by the same words that Jesus used so long ago. Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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