Historic Jesus

The word "parable" itself gives the clue to what a parable is. It means "putting things side by side. "Jesus often taught by putting a story alongside the truth he wanted to convey to his listeners. He drew the elements of his stories from nature (the seed and the soils, the mustard seed), from customs that were well known to all (folding leaven into dough, setting a lamp on a stand, meeting a bridegroom with lighted lamps), and from the stories themselves (the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the king and the wedding feast). Sometimes Jesus clearly explained the point of the story (the seed and the soils, the wheat and the tares); sometimes he drew the meaning from his audience (the Good Samaritan); and sometimes he left the point hanging, in effect asking the listener to figure out what he meant.

Jesus could have taught only in complex theological and philosophical categories. But by choosing to teach in parables, he made sure that the common people would remember what he had said and would ponder his meaning over and over again. His enduring reputation as "The Teacher" is based not only on what he taught, but also on the effective way he used parables to express his intent. Although Jesus' parables are rooted in the agricultural and village life of first century Palestine, his illustrations and applications are clear to people of all cultures and times .There has often been confusion about how to interpret Jesus' parables. If the interpreter thinks of them simply as stories that illustrate a truth, he then searches forth at truth and ignores as embroidery the rest of the "filler" elements of the stories. However, some interpreters treat the parables in allegoric terms in which every element in the story stands for something important. The challenge for the interpreter, then, becomes to identify what every element in the story represents. One of the consequences of Jesus' use of parables is that people who already have faith in him find that the stories illumine that faith further, whereas those who donŐt have such faith find many parables difficult to comprehend. Unlike parables in which the truth being communicated is kept separate from the person of the teacher, many of Jesus' parables are integrally linked with himself. More often than not, he is the subject of the parable rather than some general religious truth. Because it was so easy to remember the stories themselves, the writers of the Gospels included parables, sometimes even groups of them together, with out necessarily linking them to a particular moment in Jesus' ministry. Clearly, Jesus is remembered as a teacher par excellence because he used parables so effectively.