Parables are lanterns of Truth, clear to those who walk in their light but dark to those who will not.
Christ did much of his teaching in parables. Telling stories about familiar characters and activities was a favourite way for early religious teachers to hold the attention of an audience whilst illustrating an important moral point. Parables appear in both the Old and New Testaments but are far more easily recognizable in the ministry of Jesus.
After many rejected him as Messiah, Jesus turned to parables, explaining to his disciples in Matthew 13:10-17 that those who sought God would grasp the deeper meaning, while the truth would be hidden from the sceptical. Parables are used to allow earthly stories to teach heavenly truths, but only those who actively seek the truth will be able to understand them for Parables reveal eternal truths to the live conscience but not necessarily to the keenest intellect.
The settings in the stories are taken from ordinary life. Figures of speech are frequently used in context for a greater ease of understanding. For example, a story about a shepherd and his sheep would enable hearers to think of God and his people because of Old Testament references to such scenes.
Parables frequently incorporate elements of exaggeration and imaginative experience and are taught in such an interesting and compelling manner that their truths are difficult to escape from. Parables request listeners to make judgments on the story which means the hearers must make similar judgments about their own lives. Their intention is to make the listener come to a decision; to a moment of truth.
Typically parables leave little or no room for doubt as to their meaning. The listener is forced to see the truth in concrete rather than abstract terms. Jesus spoke over 30 percent of his recorded words in parables and to a large extent they represented his preaching. His intention was for His parables to be much more than simplistic story telling and He used them to weaponise His ministry.
The main thrust of parables in Christ's teaching was to make the listener concentrate on God and his kingdom. These stories revealed the character of God: what he is like, how he works and what he expects from his followers.
There are at least 33 parables in the Gospels and Jesus introduced many of these parables with a question and in the parable of the Mustard Seed, Jesus also answered the question He asked. Perhaps one of the most quoted parables is the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. This story is closely tied to the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. Each of these accounts focuses on the relationship with God, demonstrating what it means to be lost and how Heaven celebrates with joy when the lost are found.
Typically, the characters in Jesus' parables remained largely nameless, thus creating a wider range of possibilities for His listeners. The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 is the only one in which he used a proper name.
One of the most striking features of Jesus' parables is how they reveal the nature of God. They draw listeners and readers into a real and intimate encounter with the living God who is Shepherd, King, Father, Saviour, and so much more.
Parables undoubtedly reveal eternal Truths to the live conscience but not necessarily to the keenest intellect.