The purpose of parables
Matthew 13:10–17, 34–35
Parables: The King’s secrets
40 Blogs of Lent: Day 28
10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables;
I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
Matthew 13:10–17, 34–35 ESVUK
I love Biblehub.com. You can input a passage of scripture and see summaries from a number of different theologians from different eras of church history. I particularly like it when they disagree with each other because then I can write whatever I like. This is one of those occasions. Be assured that whatever you read here there is someone cleverer than me who disagrees, but another who agrees.
Mark makes it clear that the disciples were the twelve plus others who were around Jesus who asked why he spoke in parables. But why did they ask? Teaching in parables was not uncommon in Jewish culture at that time, nor in the rest of the area that we now call the Mediterranean and the Middle East: Aesop’s fables are from around 600 years earlier. With such a common way of teaching why the shock that Jesus was using parables?
And why to them? They were the ordinary people, teaching belonged in rabbinic schools.
And when? Straight after the parable was taught, or later in the day when the crowds had gone. I’d say the latter, Jesus tells the parables of the weeds, the mustard seed and the yeast before the second set of verses above, then the explanation of the parable of the weeds. I imply that this points to a time afterwards. As ever on this, theologians disagree with each other.
But the reason for parables is that they are not for the rabbinic schools, not for theologians. Jesus is uttering things which have been hidden from the theologians, things which the Holy Spirit reveals in people’s hearts.
So using the parable of the sower as an example, the only parable I’ve looked at so far, the Holy Spirit could prompt them into realising that they were not paying heed to Jesus message, or that they had gone no further than acceptance, or that they were giving other things in their lives more importance than Jesus. These teachings have been saved so each one of us can ask, “Is this Me?”
Jesus’ message, repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, has not changed. These parables are not theological theory, they are there to bring people, especially those who are untrained in theology, to repentance.