The parables of Jesus are treasure houses of wisdom masterfully woven in story form. They are deep, theological, practical, sometimes confusing, but always worth the effort needed to unlock their mysteries.
Basically, a parable is a short story with a moral lesson. Jesus’ parables teach a series of moral concepts using the culture of the times. Though the parables have much to offer to us in the present day via a casual reading, they have even more to offer when we understand the culture of the time and examine them in that light. For instance, in the story of the Prodigal son, when the son asked for his father’s inheritance, that was equivalent to saying he didn’t care if his father lived or died. He just wanted his money. Why? Because a son never ever asked for an inheritance until after the death of his parent. To do so prematurely was to imply he wished his parent’s death!
There are many such cultural gems waiting for us to discover. When laid in the rich framework of the parables, we can see the majestic beauty and power of Jesus’ living words reflected in the light of His truth... and we are not left unaffected.
In the presentation of these parables, I have gleaned heavily from the book Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes, by Kenneth E. Bailey. This book forced open my eyes when reading the parables caused me to see things in them I had never thought of before.
It is important to know that the nobleman of ancient Israel did not run, but walked at a dignified pace. Then what does this mean when the Prodigal’s father runs to his son?
Isolation from impure food and people was especially crucial for the Pharisees when they sat down to eat. How do we consider this when the Pharisee asked Jesus to eat with him and provided no means for Jesus to wash?
A person’s ethnic background could be seen through his speech and his clothes. How does this bear upon the Good Samaritan parable where the man is left unconscious and naked?
A woman could be divorced for letting her hair down in public. What does this mean when the woman wet Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair?
The parables used familiar symbols so the listener could relate and, if need be, be shocked. Whatever the outcome in the hearer, the parables required a response. Either the hearer was to change a behavior, or a thought, or a belief, or something else. But change is the reason for the parables.
They were not simply stories. They were living words from the mouth of God.
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