A Parable about Parables

Posted on March 21, 2012

A Parable about Parables

In Luke 12-16 Jesus tells many parables. Reading these chapters again reminds me of an old story that the Rabbis used to tell about the value of parables. It goes like this:

Once upon a time there were twins, truth and parable.  When they were young, they looked alike, but as they grew they went different ways.  Parable was beautifully dressed in colorful garb.  He was much loved by all and welcomed wherever he went.  Truth, when young, always went about naked but people didn’t seem to mind this in his innocence.  To see a little naked truth was no threat.  But as he grew up, his life was lonely and hard and people kept away from him.   The sight of naked truth was offensive. 

Parable learned of his twin brother’s difficulties and came seeking for him.  “What is this, my brother?  Why are you so long-faced?  So naked and cold?”  Truth told Parable of his sad life.  “Everybody avoids me.  I have no place to belong.”  “Nonsense,” said Parable.  “I’m welcome anywhere and you can be welcomed too.  People are strange.  They don’t care for things naked and straight forward.  They prefer it clad in color and beauty; in picture and mystery.  We are twins, you and I.  Let me share my finery with you and it will change your life.” 

The twins were inseparable.  As they grew to look more alike, they became indistinguishable. Truth dressed by Parable, became welcomed anywhere.

A parable is wisdom in story form, truth dressed up in a tale. Parables are designed to help people see things in a new way.  Jesus used parables to enlighten and to challenge mind-sets. His goal was to bring about a change of attitude, behavior, belief or thought.  Jesus uses familiar images (barns, crops, a mustard seed, sheep, silver coins & family relationships, etc…) to introduce new insights to His listeners.  Parables open up new ways of seeing life with God and invite people to change by following Jesus.

For example, Luke 15:1 says, “tax collectors and “sinners” were hanging around Jesus listening to Him. Verse 2 says that the Pharisees and the religious scholars “were not at all pleased” (The Message). The Pharisees and the scholars did not want to associate with them.  They did not seek to save sinners and were unable to rejoice at their repentance. Jesus’ response is to tell three parables: The lost sheep (15:3-7), the lost coin (15:8-10), and the lost son (15:11-31).

In the first two stories, the heart of God for the lost (See Ezekiel 34:16) is seen in contrast to the misplaced priorities of the Pharisees and scholars. These two parables speak to their zeal in searching for and finding lost possessions, not people. The Pharisees were “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14), and it is therefore not hard to see how they would leave 99 sheep to seek one lost one, or turn the house upside-down to find one lost coin. The Pharisees cared very much for that which was lost. The critical difference is that they cared about possessions, while Jesus cared about people (See Luke 19:10). Through these parables Jesus responds to their criticism of His efforts to save the lost sheep (the tax collectors and “sinners” of 15:1).  In effect Jesus is saying to the Pharisees: “If you were truly in sync with heaven you would be joining my mission to seek lost people.” In the lost son story, we see the joy and love of Abba Father toward the repentant person in contrast to the sullen joylessness of the older brother (Pharisees).

-Pastor Rick Mailloux

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