Jesus often used parables to teach people and to make a point. Parables are a Jewish style of storytelling. The stories are drawn from ordinary life. Parables usually contain some element that is strange or unusual, and they are used to illustrate or compare ideas. They do not define things precisely, but use comparisons to point us in the direction of an understanding of how God works. The meaning of parables is never too obvious, and indeed, the purpose of parables is not to settle issues, but to challenge us to think more deeply about the issues.
Because parables are drawn from everyday life, it would seem that Jesus used them in order to make it easier for his listeners to understand his message. However, if you read Matthew 13:10-17, you will see that Jesus did not expect people to understand what he was saying. If you think you know what the parable means at first glance, chances are you missed the point. This is because parables are not as clear as you might expect. There is always some doubt about the exact point of the story, and the result is that the listener or reader wonders why the story is so strange or unsettling—“Hey, that's not supposed to happen that way!” You begin to think more deeply about the meaning of the parable. That is the goal—parables raise more questions than answers. They help us see beyond the obvious into the deeper meaning that Jesus had in mind. That is why the parables of Jesus continue to fascinate us two thousand years later.
Pick any of the parables listed below. Take time to read and reread it. If the parable can be found in more than one Gospel, read that version too. Think about what Jesus might have had in mind when he was telling that parable. What was he trying to get across to his listeners? How did Jesus want them to think or act differently after hearing the parable? How does it encourage you to think or act differently? Talk to God in the quiet of your heart about the parable. Ask him to help shed some light on it for you.
The Two Houses
Luke 6:47-49; Matthew 7:24-27
The Closed Door
The Great Feast
The 10 Gold Coins
Luke 19:12-27; Matthew 25:14-30