What are the Parables of Jesus?
What are the "Parables of Jesus"? They’re stories. That’s what they are. Most of the time they’re random stories. But stories nonetheless. We tell a lot of stories in our community. They help us celebrate and learn and grow as a church. We don't have a bullet-pointed list of doctrine we believe. We have a narrative theology - a story. We might not always know how to begin to tell others about why we follow Jesus, but we each have a story to share. Stories are something we deeply value.
And why do we love stories?
Because Jesus loves stories.
The author, Christian Wiman, gives a great explanation of these parables of Jesus in his book, My Bright Abyss:
“In the Gospels Jesus is always talking to the crowds in parables, which he later explains to his disciples. The dynamic is odd in a couple of ways, either the parables are obvious and the explanations seem almost patronizing or they are opaque and the explanations only compound their opacity. (Or could it be- and I confess to relishing this possibility- that the explanations illustrate Christ’s wry sense of humor....) In any case, the notable point is just how little these explanations amount to, how completely the ultimate truths of the parables- just like dreams and poems, remaining in their own occurrence.”
Here’s what we hope our community will remember about the parables:
- Some of the time parables mean exactly what you think they mean.
- Some of the time parables mean nothing like what you think they mean.
- Which means that these parables meant different things to different people listening to them.
- Every parable ultimately points towards Jesus Christ.
And what’s the goal of Jesus Christ when He tells these stories?
Well, every parable is designed by Jesus to absolutely ruin any and every routine that you have ever had. It is designed to ruin any idea you were ever sure of concerning the Kingdom of Heaven and how God works in the world. It is designed to make you uncomfortable and shake up your world view.
The author Rachel Held Evans has some good stuff to say on her blog about Jesus and his goals with these parables:
"Each of these parables features Jesus’ very favorite subject, the thing he spoke about more than any other: The Kingdom.
The Kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed, Jesus said, that grows into an enormous tree with branches wide and strong enough to make a home for all the birds. It is like a buried treasure, a delicious feast, or a net that catches an abundance of fish. The Kingdom is right here, Jesus said. It is present and yet hidden, immanent yet transcendent. The Kingdom isn’t some far off place you go where you die, the Kingdom is at hand—among us and beyond us, now and not-yet. It is the wheat growing in the midst of weeds, the yeast working its magic in the dough, the pearl germinating in a sepulchral shell. It can come and go in the twinkling of an eye, Jesus said. So pay attention; don’t miss it.
This Kingdom knows no geographic boundaries, no political parties, no single language or culture. It advances not through power and might, but through acts of love and joy and peace, missions of mercy and kindness and humility. This Kingdom has arrived, not with a trumpet’s sound but with a baby’s cries, not with the vanquishing of enemies but with the forgiving of them, not on the back of a war horse but on the back of a donkey, not with triumph and a conquest but with a death and a resurrection.
And yet there is more to this Kingdom that is still to come, Jesus said, and so we await a day when every tear will be wiped from every eye, when swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears shaped into a pruning hooks, when justice will cascade like a river down a mountain and righteousness like a never-ending stream, when people from every tribe and tongue and nation will live together in peace, when there will be no more death."
So here are a few rules for you as you engage in these parables:
- Be open to disrupting your routine, to letting God reshape your ideas about His Kingdom. Engage with scripture differently than you did before.
- Just like when Jesus spoke in these parables people are going to hear them differently. The way that our church leaders present these parables will not be the final word. You may have a different idea of these parables. Pay attention to how the spirit is leading you to hear these words.
- These parables, when done right, should bring comfort in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and they should absolutely bother you. That’s the beauty of the good news. It comforts us and then confronts us.
Want to get started reading the parables? Below is a list of all the parables listed in the New Testament. Open the Book and let them mess with your routine today.