What Did I Miss? Learning From Parables
Who fully gets all the parables from Sunday School?
I can promise that it isn’t me. Sure, some of the parables make since. However, others are a bit tricky and leave me scratching my head wondering why.
Why would Jesus wrap up the truth He is trying to convey to the multitudes, to the disciples, to me, in the package of a cloaked story? A story that I’m not sure I fully grasp. More than once I’ve walked away from a parable thinking: Well, what did I miss? I didn’t get it today; I guess I’ll come back another day and see if it makes more since then.
Now, If we want to talk about someone that gets parables, let’s talk about Aesop. This fella was a guy who understood parables! He made up a genre of parables that he called ‘fables’ and he supposedly wrote over 655 of them. He lived during the time of Buddha and Plato and he rocked the parable genre. So much so that Aesop remains famous today for his art as a storyteller who could weave deft truth out of the smallest of stories.
For example, think of Aesop's tale of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. What a classic. I think every child learns this story at a young age and reference back to it for knowledgeable application as an adult. “A liar will not be believed, even when he tells the truth.” Through one small tale, Aesop is able to make a point that has superseded the centuries. Generations of children have learned truth from a cloaked story.
But what about all the cloaked stories of Jesus- the parables? Why have I missed the application of these when I can clearly grasp the usefulness of Aesop's fables? It was a question that I didn’t know the answer to, so I let it fall to the wayside for a long time.
Then came this study of the gospel. As we have moved deeper into the heart of them it became apparent that Jesus was going to teach more and more in parables. It was time. I wanted to know what Jesus was saying to me! So I set out with a determination to learn and grasp the meaning of the parables.
First off, I realized that I didn’t understand what a parable was. Just learning the definition of a parable made a huge difference. Encyclopedia Britannica describes a parable as “a short allegory with one definite moral.”
I mulled on this for a while and related it back to what I already knew about Aesop. It turns out that both Jesus’ parables and Aesop's fables:
- Use a story to convey a truth
- Are short and succinct
- Are intended to teach ONE specific piece of truth
(Parables will tear and unravel if you pull too hard at the fabric of their storytelling. They aren’t meant to be interrogated; they are meant to be listened to for their one pearl of wisdom.)
There is, though, one main way Jesus’ parables differs from Aesop’s.
- Aesop clearly delivers the moral of his fable at the end, while Jesus leaves us to make the inferring application.
So, here is where the rubber meets the road. What do I do after Sunday School (or Bible study or small group, or ect…) when we’ve talked about Jesus’ parables and I’m not sure what truth I’ve heard and what application to make?
What do I do when I just don’t get it? When I miss it?
Well, before I’m too hard on myself, it is nice to realize that I’m not the only one that doesn’t walk away, every time, with a full comprehension of Jesus’ words. The disciples were just as lost as I am.
Here in Matthew 13:10 the disciples come to Jesus and ask: “Why do you speak to them in parables?”
I love it! The disciples couldn’t figure out why Jesus was speaking in parables either. It’s nice to know that it isn’t just me that has a hard time understanding the New Testament parables. If the disciples who lived and walked with Jesus didn’t fully understand what He was saying then I think it’s ok for me to also be in a place of questioning.
Questioning is the key word, though. The disciples questioned when the multitudes did not. The disciples do not stay in a place where they don’t understand. In Luke we watch them approach Jesus about what they want to know.
“And the disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable might be.” Luke 8:9
Look how the disciples come to Jesus, not hiding the fact that they don't understand, but asking Him questions so that they can better understand the words which He has given them.
Furthermore, in Matthew 13:10 and 18 Jesus responds to their questioning with this:
“To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,
but to them it has not been granted…Hear the Parable of the Sower…”
We can clearly see in three of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) how the disciples didn’t understand the parable Jesus spoke to them. And when they didn’t understand they chose to seek out Jesus to teach them. The multitudes did not seek Jesus so Jesus didn’t reveal the parable’s meaning to them. Seeing this makes me feel very differently about what I was missing.
What I was missing wasn’t an understanding of a parable that I had read. I was missing a vital principal. The principal was this: If I don’t understand the scripture then I should approach God and ask Him to teach me.
And look how Jesus responds to the disciples in Matthew 13 when they ask Him to teach them - He explains the parable to them!
After I saw this principle laid out I was blown away.
From the gospels I have learned a lot of things about the character of Jesus and about growing in relationship with Him. This however is one of my favorite things that I have ever learned.
That the God of all storytelling has created a way to speak to me. He created the parable. In this literary device He made a way to speak truth to me, to the disciples, to you, to the multitudes, and to the whole world. By speaking in this manner, God may speak truth to us all constantly, but it is only when I am willing to engage Him and question Him (studying His word), seeking Him with my whole heart, that He opens up my understanding to His truth.
Until I am ready to embrace Him and His truth He protects me from the responsibility of it. When I ask to know Him, then He opens up my eyes to understand the parables!
Catching a glimpse of the infinite kindness and wisdom of God through the parables makes me rethink my opinion of Aesop. Sure, he was a great at fables, but he is nothing compared to Jesus!
Hannah Michael Wolfkill Snyder has always loved all of her names (yes, each one is on her passport!). However, the name she loves the most is Jesus. Jesus taught her how to play in the throne room of Heaven and sit in the lap of God the Father. This is her identity, where her heart loves to abide (even if her hands and feet are busy on earth running a household or meeting up with people). Because of her joy in the Father, her heart’s desire is to show women their God given identity in the kingdom of Heaven. You can find her on Instagram.