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What's a "parable"?

March 20, 2023

Daily Scripture

Mark 4:33-34, Matthew 13:34-35

Mark 4

33 With many such parables he continued to give them the word, as much as they were able to hear. 34 He spoke to them only in parables, then explained everything to his disciples when he was alone with them.

Matthew 13

34 Jesus said all these things to the crowds in parables, and he spoke to them only in parables. 35 This was to fulfill what the prophet spoke:
“I’ll speak in parables;
I’ll declare what has been hidden since the beginning of the world.” [Psalm 78:2]

Daily Reflection & Prayer

Jesus taught with many “parables” (Greek parabolē). That word (and its Hebrew equivalent māšal) meant using stories as images to get hearers thinking. Scholar N. T. Wright said, “Parables… aren’t simply nice, friendly illustrations to help people get their minds round deep abstract truth. The truth they speak of is… what God is doing personally, bodily, in Jesus and his work, and what God will do through his death and resurrection…. it doesn’t look like what most people were expecting.” *

  • Jesus didn’t invent the use of parables. For example, when Israel’s King David lost his moral compass (cf. 2 Samuel 11:1-25), Nathan the prophet’s parable deftly showed how the king had abused his power (cf. 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13). Instead of a scolding, the parable helped David to see himself more clearly. When has a sermon illustration, a Bible or other story given you insight into yourself? How do stories sometimes reach your heart when a lecture won’t get through?
  • Experienced teachers know students can learn more from wrestling with a question or experiment than if the teacher just tells them the answer. When his disciples asked, “Why parables?” Jesus said, “those who have will receive more…. as for those who don’t have, even the little they have will be taken away from them” (Matthew 13:12). That wasn’t arbitrary. Use muscles and they grow; left idle, they wither. In what ways have you received “more” by building your spiritual “muscles”?

Lord Jesus, you brought light and life. Guide me as I keep learning how to live into the life you offer, to stretch myself and grow in the atmosphere of your grace. Amen.

GPS Insights

Valerie Vogt

Valerie Vogt

Valerie Nagel Vogt was born, raised, and attended college in California. Her Master of Divinity degree is from Duke Divinity School. She was ordained in the Rio Texas Conference where she served as an associate pastor in the Austin area and San Antonio. From congregational care and welcoming guests to leading in worship, Valerie loves the ministry of the local church. She feels blessed to have served as a pastor since 2011. She juggles ministry with being a mom to Caleb (born 2012) and Jacob (born 2015), friend, avid reader, lover of the outdoors, beginner to the world of CrossFit, and foodie.

In one of her poems, Emily Dickinson wrote, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” Parables tell us a truth we need to hear, and they help us to discover the truth through an image or story. When I read the parables, I feel the need to slow down and ask myself questions. I want to look at the parable from every angle, like walking around a statue or other piece of art. What is the image? Who are the characters? What is the historic significance? What do I need to learn about this topic so I can understand what Jesus said? Where do I see myself in the parable? What is the parable telling me about God?

As Pastor Adam shared in his sermon, the parables invite us to really listen to Jesus and ponder what he said. We have to reflect on his words so we can understand the Kingdom of God. Hearing the parables requires us to have a spiritually open heart. And we can give ourselves grace because sometimes even the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was teaching.

A friend introduced me to the band Penny & Sparrow. They have a song, “Honest Wage” (click here if you want to listen to the song) that is a retelling of the Prodigal Son from the older brother’s perspective. As one who grew up in the church that’s where I see myself in the story. It’s clear in the song that bitterness has taken root which leads the older brother to behaviors that are heartbreaking and self-destructive. (I want to share this song with you because it has been meaningful for me, but I also want to let you know that it could be triggering for those dealing with unhealthy coping, particularly those who struggle with abusing alcohol.) May this song, and whatever ways you find to ponder today, draw you closer to God as you reflect on the parables Jesus told.

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Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* N. T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1–15. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 162-163.