Whole Life Whole Bible Day 34
Matthew 13:10-11 (NASB)
10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.
Matthew 13:16 (NASB)
16 But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.
33: Listen! Whoever has ears…
Jesus taught in parables — longish ones with characters and plot (such as the prodigal son), ones with detailed, sometimes allegorical, interpretations (the sower), and others expressed as short metaphors (the woman making bread with yeast). Sometimes we know the context. Jesus stood in a boat, Matthew tells us, to tell the story of the sower to a large crowd on the shore. Afterwards the disciples asked him what it meant and he explained it to them. More often, though, we are given no explanation.
Over the centuries, the parables have presented some knotty problems of interpretation. Did Jesus just make up stories, or was the sower, for example, to be seen on the hill above him, doing exactly what Jesus says? Is the story of the man paying the same wages, however long the laborers had worked, any guide for employers today? Is there just one main truth per parable or should we be teasing lessons out of every element in the story? Will we really be able to watch the damned from heaven, as in the story of the rich man and Lazarus?
Unlike the first three Gospel writers, John never uses the word ‘parable’, but his use of extended metaphors—light and darkness, sheep and shepherds, hunger and the bread of life, thirst and living water, the vine and the vine dresser — help us see that Jesus is building on images and metaphors used by the prophets and sages of the Old Testament.
Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question in Matthew 13:11 gives us a clue, maybe even the key, to what is involved when he teaches in parables. The disciples are distinguished from the crowds not by their instant and intuitive understanding of Jesus’ parables, but by their seeking of explanations, and by having the ‘secrets’ revealed to them. Inherent in every parable, short or long, is a question: Do you understand? Are your ears and eyes open to the truth?
Jesus draws a picture with which we can immediately engage, but which carries a truth that we may miss. A humble, passionate desire to know him and his will for us is the beginning of our understanding and appropriation of parable truth. In addition, those whose own eyes have been opened will want to alert others to the presence and power of the kingdom, inviting people to listen and respond when the king calls.
For further reflection and action
Ezekiel 34:1–24, God’s promise to send a shepherd to tend the people of Israel, seems to lie behind a number of passages about shepherding and sheep in the Gospels. How, for instance, might it inform our understanding of what’s going on in Luke 15:1–7?
Look at the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25–37. The legal expert wants to know who qualifies as a neighbor whom he should love. Imagine that you are leading a study of the parable and you ask the group this question (‘Who is your neighbor?’) before reading it. How do you think they would reply? In the telling of the story, what are the main points that Jesus is making about neighbor-love?
How far should Jesus’ teaching in parables provide a model for communicating with people today? As you think about this, reflect on why the apostles in the book of Acts did not appear to use parables in their own preaching.
Visit LICC to find out more or get an overview of the Biblical narrative and the ways it can shape us by reading the Introduction to Whole Life, Whole Bible from the Whole Life, Whole Bible book.