What is a Parable?
(Notes from the talks given on Sunday 7th January ’07)
A parable is like a riddle, a story Jesus told about everyday things. He used parables because we all love stories, they engage us, involve us emotionally, and relate to our lives. The parables are special as being riddle like they provoke us to think – what is Jesus trying to tell us? what does this mean?
To solve these riddles, we need to understand the background of the day.
What does Jesus say About Parables?
Speaking to his disciples: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, ‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’” Luke 8:10
What’s this all about? Suggests that Jesus is trying to talk in such a way that to some people he may be understood, but at the same time others won’t be able to understand – almost as if he’s speaking in code.
Maybe that’s because he doesn’t want those who may be made angry by what he has to say to realise what he’s saying? Remember as time went on he made many enemies – the Roman leaders began to wonder if he was a rebel come to kick them out and the religious leaders became jealous of his popularity.
I wonder though if this is really what it’s about – surely Jesus wanted all people to have a chance to hear and respond to the good news about God’s kingdom that he was bringing?
He is actually quoting Isaiah – these words were given to Isaiah at the beginning of his work as a prophet and meant that although what he had to say could be heard by all, some would hear and accept it, but others would hear and reject it. And so it was with Jesus and still is today, some hear his words and embrace him, others hear him and reject him.
The fun thing about the parables is that often no explanation is given. This leaves it possible for a parable to mean a range of things to different people. God can speak through them to us in different ways. It also means that once heard they can continue to niggle away at us and may raise more questions than answers!
The Sower & His Seeds
Here is a parable that Jesus once told as an example and introduction to our series: Luke 8:4-8
Most of the people listening would be able to relate to this. In Israel at the time only a handful of Jews would be wealthy, as would the Roman occupiers, but the vast majority of people would be poor peasant farmers· With the rich having taken the best land, these would be forced to farm on the margins. Most of those listening to Jesus would be just like the farmer in the story, scratching a living on soil which most of the time was not very good.
The picture of the land would have been an evocative one. The Land had been promised to them by God, it was a sign of their relationship with him. But at this time, the Land was occupied by the Romans, they had lost control of their inheritance from God.
With the giving of the Land came other promises. If they stayed close to God, then they would prosper, the land would yield a good harvest! However, if they strayed from him and his ways, then the land would become barren.
Many in the audience would have been struggling to survive and despairing that God had abandoned them. What would this parable have meant to them? The poor harvests in it would remind them of the need to repent, to turn back to God and his ways. At the same time, however, all was not lost. God hadn’t abandoned them. There were still these good harvests. They could have hope of restoration by God. He was still with them.
What does this mean to us today? How does this riddle challenge or encourage you?
Sower Part Two
This parable is unusual as Jesus actually gives an interpretation of it to his disciples (although remember that most of the crowd that heard it would only have the story, a parable can mean different things to different people).
I have heard many sermons on this. They usually go something like this…
– God is the farmer sowing his seed
– The seed is the word – the good news about Jesus
– People are like the different soils
– Some hear and accept it and flourish
– Some seem to accept Jesus, but are then tempted away by other things and wither
– Others are like the rocky ground, they don’t even accept Jesus at all
I have a problem with this. It gives no hope – either you will respond or not, it’s fixed. You can’t be changed from being rock to good soil. Also, that’s not actually what Jesus says, he doesn’t say that we are like the different soils, instead he says that we are like the seed.
That brings hope. Yes, there will be different responses to God. We know this from our experience of other people and ourselves, but the soil can be changed, the seed is viable if it can be found suitable nourishment.
When we find ourselves in barren times, maybe this story can encourage us?
Is it telling us to perhaps call upon God, to forgive us and nourish us?
Perhaps its a warning to take care of what we feed our souls with?
What does it say to you?
Above all, I think it is telling us not to give up hope. God is with us, his kingdom is near, draw near to him.