Parables of Jesus

Parables of Jesus.  Parables are stories.  Lots of effort has gone into defining parables. Some argue that they are like analogies, in which one thing stands for another.  But that definition would assume that every parable can be taken apart, so that this means that.  Better to see the parable as a short story whose meaning is set by the context.

Parables are the main way Jesus Christ explains the kingdom of God, to show the character of God, and the expectations that God has for humans (Snodgrass, p 1).  Parables make up over 35% of Jesus’ teaching in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).*  Most scholars believe that the parables are the bedrock of Christ’s teachings, the closest we can get to what he actually said.  Trouble is, the meaning of many parables is ambiguous.  Another trouble is that we have only the evangelists’ interpretation of the parables, and they had a theological agenda, set by the resurrection.  Generally, this is not a problem, for it is this we want to know.  However, there are other ways of trying to get behind Jesus’ intent, and I will share one of them with you.    

Parables remind me of the questions Socrates posed as he went about his day, such as “what is justice?” or “what is excellence?”  Simple questions with big answers.  But the real similarity resides in the way in which Jesus’ parables and Socrates’ questions call for answers.  Not just to the question posed, but an answer that requires turning one’s life around.  The Hebrew term for riddle, mashal, also means parable.  It is up to us to find the answer.  My favorite definition is that the parable is intended to “deceive the hearer into the truth.”

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