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The Paradox of Parables

The Paradox of Parables

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Published by glennpease
The parables of Jesus were designed to both enlighten and confuse, to open eyes and to blind eyes. They had a dual purpose due to two kinds of listeners.
The parables of Jesus were designed to both enlighten and confuse, to open eyes and to blind eyes. They had a dual purpose due to two kinds of listeners.

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Published by: glennpease on Feb 16, 2011
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Written and edited by Glenn PeaseThe practice of Jesus teaching in parables is paradoxical because some are convinced that hechose this method of teaching so he could reach the masses who were not educated, and whowould not respond to a more intellectual and sophisticated message. On the other hand you haveevidence that Jesus used the parables rather than straight forward obvious teaching to keeppeople in ignorance of what he was saying because they were not willing to receive the truth of hismessage. So which was it? Did he tell parables to enlighten those who listened, or to blind thosewho did not want to listen? Let's consider the thinking of authors on these two differentperspectives. First we will look at the positive role of parables, and then the negative role. If anyone I quote does not want their perspective shared in this way, they can let me know and Iwill delete it. My e-mail is glenn_p86@yahoo.comI. THE POSITIVE PURPOSE OF PARABLES.A. Jabez Burns wrote this back in 1917, and he clearly takes the parables as having a positiverole in communicating the truth that Jesus wanted to convey to the common people. Burneswrote, “We might remark that it accorded with the habits and mental characteristics of thepeople, and that it harmonized with great portions of their Holy Scriptures. But we observe,1, That it rendered great and sublime subjects easy to be understood. Christ's were the most loftyand exalted. He had to do with subjects difficult of apprehension to the human mind. His topicswere spiritual, heavenly, eternal. By parables, he brought these truths down to the capacities of the people. They could not hope to ascertain the mind and design of the speaker, and the importof his subject. Hence the common people, the illiterate, the mass, heard him gladly. o marvelthat the peasantry hung on his sacred lips with wonder, reverence, and admiration. ow thisshould ever be the chief object of the preacher's attention the people must understand, or howcan they possibly profit ?2. By parables, subjects were rendered pleasing to the mind. Figurative illustrations, andmetaphorical analogies, are gratifying to most minds. Abstract principles, presented in anabstract form, would attract the careful attention of but a few of mankind. But to see thesethemes clothed in parabolical costume, was sure to delight the great majority of the Savior'shearers. To interest our hearers, is generally essential to their profit. And the Savior's hearerswere often so charmed, that for hours they listened to him with gladness and delight. On oneoccasion he wrought a splendid miracle to supply the people with food who had followed him,and hearkened to his discourses until evening had come. Matt. xiv. 14.3. By teaching in parables he obtained a more candid hearing from his auditors. Many of theSavior's sermons were intended to convey keen rebukes for sin, and faithful warnings to thosewho were deceiving themselves. In many cases a direct charge would have at once excited theirprejudices and wrath. By parables, therefore, the bitter potion was so administered, that thosewho were condemned by the discourse must have admired the mode in which the reproof wasgiven, or the threatening denounced. Be- sides, it was thus more difficult to reject the counsel of 
the Savior against themselves.4. By parables the Savior often won the attention of his hearers. Many of the Savior's parableswere adapted to excite and captivate the best emotions of the heart Such, for instance, as theparable of the joyous shepherd rejoicing over the recovered wanderer from the fold. Such also asthe element lord who so freely forgave the debt of his servant Such also as the mercy andgoodness of the father who so ardently received back again his prodigal son.5. The parables of the Savior were easily remembered and retained. The natural imagery inwhich they were clothed was always before them. The fishermen could not forget the parable of the net ; nor the house wife those of the leaven or the lost pieces of silver; nor the husbandmanthose of the vineyard of the sower or of the tares. If we be benefited by what we hear, it must beretained and stored up in the chambers of the memory.6. By parabolical teaching the Savior showed the great aim of his ministry. It was not to perplexthe ignorant, or to triumph over the partially instructed, or to exhibit himself as an object forlearned admiration ; but it was evident he desired their improvement their enlightenment theirspiritual and eternal profit He showed the deepest concern for their well-being, and made itevident that he labored for their present and everlasting salvation. How desirable tomake this manifest in all our discourses. To convince our hearers that we seek only their profit,that they may be saved.B. Ken Collins, “It was the style of teaching of the day. Just as today it is fashionable to tell it likeit is, in those days, religious teachers always taught in parables. Volumes upon volumes of rabbinical writings from that era have survived to this day, and they all attest that parables werethe way to go. People expected religious leaders to speak in parables. The teachers who werebetter storytellers developed a larger following.Parables make teachings easier to remember and apply. In the parable of the lost son, the son gotinto a terrible fix, but he realized that in his situation he had nothing to lose and everything togain by attempting a reconciliation with his father. In the parable there was a happy ending, butif you are ever in desperate straits, and you remember this parable, you might realize that even if the reconciliation doesn’t come off, you’re still no worse off. So by remembering the parable, youmight attempt a reconciliation that you otherwise wouldn’t think of.Parables are more enduring than telling it like it is. Social problems come and go. The way it isbecomes the way it was. Old sermons addressing old social problems are out of touch with today.Parables deal with basic principles, whereas telling it like it is deals with how those principlesapply to specific situations.If the situation changes, the telling it like it was becomes irrelevant, but the parable lives on.Jesus’ parables are still relevant to everyday life even after 2,000 years and technological, social,and political changes beyond anyone’s wildest imagining. Since Jesus spoke, four additionalcontinents were discovered. Yet His parables live on. On the other hand, a sermon that told it likeit was about the hippie movement or miniskirts less than thirty years ago would sooner move thecongregation to nostalgia than to repentance.
Parables allow you to make statements that would otherwise get you in trouble. In old England,political commentary was dangerous, so newspapers printed transparent rhymes. All thosenursery rhymes like Humpty Dumpty and Little Jack Horner were political satires. Parables andrhymes have always been a form of political or social commentary in societies where eithercustom or the law does not permit such things to be said in plain words. Many of Jesus’ parablesmade the Pharisees angry, because they taught things that weren’t to their liking, but stated themindirectly. The only teaching Jesus got in trouble for was His plain teaching that He is the Son of God.Parables have a time-release effect; they plant seeds that sprout later. Jesus taught the public inpithy and memorable parables, so that people would remember them, discuss them, and try tofigure out what they meant; and in this way the parables spread far beyond their originalaudience. Jesus deliberately withheld the meaning of the parables from the public to equip thedisciples for successful evangelism later on. He explained the parables to the disciples, told themto wait for the proper time, and then shout from the housetops what they had heard in secret.After the Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples did just that. The crowds,who were already familiar with Jesus’ parables, now heard the explanations, and that is how3,000 converts were made on the first day of Christian evangelism.”C. Lois Tverberg, “Jesus, like other rabbis, teaches theology at a very high level by describingGod as a king who throws a banquet and invites the outcasts, or a shepherd who looks for hissheep. Beyond just defining him, Jesus paints a picture of God's character in vivid colors. Hisstories go beyond just defining and explaining, they elicit an emotional reaction. People can feelviscerally the irony of a majestic king sitting at a table with beggars and outcasts, and sense theshocking grace the king is showing them. And they can imagine the anguish that a shepherdendures and his great joy when he finds a lost sheep. This is exactly the point - Jesus was apassionate teacher whose goal was not just to give people an intellectual knowledge of God, but toteach them about God's powerful love for them, and cause them to return that love to Him.”D. We know that people understood Jesus well enough to be amazed by his teaching. In Matt.15:54-5, we read that when he spoke in the synagogue the people were amazed, and said, “Wheredid this man get this wisdom...” Matthew 7:28, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, thecrowds were amazed at his teaching, ...”Mark 1:22, “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who hadauthority, not as the teachers of the law.”Mark 6:2, “When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heardhim were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom thathas been given him?Mark 11:18, “The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for away to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.”Luke 4:32, “They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority.John 7:15, “The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learningwithout having been taught?”ow as we go on to read of the negative purpose it becomes clear that we are dealing with aparadox that is hard to reconcile, for Jesus was both easy to understand in his teaching, and so

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