Last weekend in the Gospel from Luke we heard one of the most endearing of the parables, the Prodigal Son. Jesus used simple word-pictures to help people understand who God is and what his kingdom or reign is like. Jesus’ teachings used images and characters taken from the everyday life and world around Him to create a drama to illustrate his message.
Over a third of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke contain parables told by Jesus. His parables challenge us to discover what God is like and moves us to make a response to God’s love and truth. Remember a picture can take the place of a thousand words. In His parables Jesus painted vivid pictures with short, simple and ordinary everyday events of His time. The parables of the mustard seed, a determined woman looking for her lost coin, a barren fig tree, the pearl of great price, the uninvited wedding guests, the good Samaritan, the ten brides maids, the list goes on and on.
Jesus’ parables may have been for a specific time and place, but they to speak of timeless realities to people of every time and place. Jesus used parables to help the listener to search and discover the deeper meaning and underlying truth of the reality being portrayed. Most, but not all, parables bring out a lesson or a moral. Jesus also used parables to teach important truths about God and his kingdom and lessons pertaining to the way of life and happiness which God has for us. Jesus’ audience would have been very familiar with stories containing fig trees, wineskins, oil lamps, money, stewards, judges, wedding parties; these were illustrations of everyday life. Today we may have to do some “homework” to understand the social customs described.
Jesus’ parables have a double meaning. First, there is the literal meaning, apparent to anyone who has experience with the subject matter. There also is a deeper meaning about God’s truth and His kingdom. The parables often involve an element of surprise or an unexpected twist. We may be taken off guard and have to take a second look. That is truly the gift of the parables, when the story challenges us and invites us to further reflection.
It is interesting that Jesus tells his disciples that not everyone would understand his parables. Jesus was aware that some people would refuse to understand them and that they would close their hearts to what He was saying. God can only reveal the secrets of His kingdom to the humble and trusting person who acknowledges the need for God and for His truth. It is important not to get bogged down in the details of the parable, it is the main point that counts. Jesus meant for His parables to provoke a response.