The Parables of Jesus
Teaching is largely a matter of explaining the unknown by reference to the known and familiar. Even in science much is made of models. A science teacher often explains a concept by using similes by saying something is 'like' something else. In the same way Jesus used parables to communicate spiritual truths. Not surprisingly many of his stories begin with, 'The Kingdom of Heaven is like. . .'.
It is important to distinguish between a parable and an allegory.
The parables are more than a means of illustrating an important point in a sermon and more than mere aids to memory: they are designed to challenge and to provoke decision. Jesus sometimes begins, 'What do you think?' and the hearers are invited to see the relevance of the story to his teaching about the Kingdom.
- A parable has one central point and the details of the story serve only to make that point more vivid and clear.
- In an allegory, each detail of the story has a meaning which needs to be understood if the complete message is to be conveyed. An allegory is a story whose message is hidden in a kind of code.
- A true parable must relate to real life, the world in which things are what they appear to be. In Jesus' parables, fish are real fish, sheep are sheep and the lost coin is local currency.
- An allegory may conform to real life, but it may depart into the world of fantasy. The parables of Jesus are grounded in the lives of ordinary men and women, and draw on the everyday experience of his hearers.
The central theme of all the parables is the same as that of all the Gospels namely the announcement of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. The Jews believed that the Messianic Age would come about when God came to reign over his people. Jesus' message is 'The time is right the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Good News.' This is the original setting, not only of the parables, but also the miracles.