Author: Ron Graham
Why Did Jesus Speak in Parables?
—He had very good reasons
Jesus was a Master of the parable. In his teaching, Jesus used parables often and to great effect. Parables were a good way to teach and Jesus was good at telling them. However there were more reasons than that for Jesus’s use of parables.
1 To Give His Enemies No Ground
The enemies of Jesus were always waiting for him to say something they could use against him (Luke 11:53-54). By speaking in parables, Jesus was making it very hard for them. He could hardly be arrested for telling homely stories!
The parables were evocative not provocative. By couching his teaching in parables, Jesus made certain points much clearer to true-hearted people than even plain language could have made them. At the same time, he was speaking indirectly and figuratively so that lawyers had nothing to accuse him of. When it would have been counterproductive to speak plainly in public, Jesus spoke in parables —a prudent strategy.
The parable of the ten virgins is a simple story about people’s behaviour at a wedding (Matthew 25:1-13). Clearly, as the bridegroom in the story, Jesus is representing himself as God with the power to open and shut the doors of Heaven (Revelation 3:7). But nobody could prove he was saying that.
2 To Enlighten the True Hearted
Jesus took advantage of occasions when multitudes flocked to hear him speak. Through the parables he could enlighten those whose hearts were sincere and receptive and who were hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).
The word heart (by coincidence) starts with the word hear. The good heart hears God’s word, understands it, and seeks to know more about the kingdom of Heaven and God’s will. In the parables people found what they were looking for.
The parable of the sower illustrates that the seed of God’s word grows and bears fruit in good hearts. When he had told this parable, Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Matthew 13:1-9). Some people tune their ears to the word of God, and they understand the truth.
3 To Make People Think
Jesus knew that not everybody would understand or give proper thought to his parables. Some people tune their hearts and ears to God’s word, whilst others deliberately block their ears to God’s voice. Yet others neither tune nor block their ears —Jesus told parables to challenge such folk.
The parable of the two roads makes people think about where their souls are going, and to make the decision to "enter by the narrow gate" lest they be swept with the crowd down the broad way to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).
4 To Divide Into Two
After telling the parable of the sower (mentioned above), Jesus was asked by his disciples the question from which our present lesson takes its title. They asked, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" (Matthew 13:10).
Jesus answered by quoting Isaiah, concerning people who have eyes but do not see, and have ears but do not hear (Matthew 13:11-17, Isaiah 6:8-10). In telling the parables, Jesus was bringing pressure to bear upon his listeners, to either open their spiritual eyes and ears and be enlightened, or to shut their eyes and ears tighter and be condemned.
The parables not only make people think, they also make people choose. They bring people out of the grey area into the clearly black or white. The parables were a winnowing fork for Jesus, by which he was able to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The parable of the sheep and the goats has this intention (Matthew 25:31-46). All who hear this story are forced to choose whether they will be among the sheep or the goats, and to be accountable for their decision.
5 To Fulfil Prophecy
We complete this lesson by observing that Jesus was guided in his ministry by the scriptures of the prophets where he found his wisdom and authority to speak in parables.
"Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables, and he was not speaking to them without a parable, so that what was spoken by through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, 'I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world'" (Matthew 13:34-35, Psalms 78:1-4).
The prophet of old had forseen that the Christ would teach in parables, making him say, "I will open my mouth in parables". Moreover, Jesus was preaching a message decreed "since the foundation of the world", making known the message which had been shrouded in mystery for long ages past (Romans 16:25-27). So Jesus spoke in parables because the scriptures said he should, and "the scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35).
1. Correct this misquote - He who has a nose to smell, let him smell.
2. How did the parables affect the enemies of Jesus?
3. How did the parables affect true hearted people?
4. How did the parables affect people who were not thinking enough about God?
5. How did parables affect people in the spiritual grey zone who halted between two opinions?