Stories That Pack a Punch

July Reading Tips
July 1, 2020
Paul Hamline

Jesus stands out as a master teacher. As we begin reading the gospels in the month of July, we will hear many teachings of Christ and see many methods He uses to teach others. In this article we will consider one of Jesus’ primary methods of teaching through parables. In Matthew 13:3 it says, “And He [Jesus] spoke many things to them in parables . . .”  
 
To help us better understand this genre of Scripture, we will look at the nature of parables, how parables function, and the process of discovering the punch of the parable or its message, truth, lesson, or admonition.
 
Let’s begin by looking at the nature of parables. The Greek term for parable is “parabole.” This term is found to consist of four primary types or varieties of parables.  A parable can be a short story designed to teach us a principle. A good example of this would be the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30–37.  A parable can also appear as resembling something or to be like something. Jesus would often take an item from everyday life to represent a likeness to a spiritual principle. Jesus taught in Matthew 13 that the natural activity of sowing seed is similar to proclaiming the Word of God. A third characteristic of a parable appears in the form of a metaphor which is a word or phrase that is applied to something but is not actually true of that particular thing. In Matthew 5:13 Jesus tells His disciples, “You are the salt of the earth,” The last characteristic is likely not as familiar to readers, and it is what is called an epigram. This type of parable is more like a proverb or pithy saying. In Matthew 7:16 Jesus talking about identifying false prophets states, “Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?”
 
Let’s take a moment and look at the function of parables. When we speak of the function of a parable, we are saying that a parable has an action or purpose for which it is used. There is an attitude we should implement or an action we should take. Fee and Stuart state that parables, particularly “story parables function as a means of calling forth a response on the part of the hearer.” A parable is employed as a way to zing the listener. It is used to catch the listener up short.  
 
Finally, let’s consider the process of discovering the punch of the parable by considering the following general principles: (1) Read, read, and reread the parable. (2) Determine the occasion for the story. (3) Look for the main points of the parable. Most parables will have from one to three main points.  (4) Do not assign meaning to every detail in a parable. (5) Jesus used people and plants that His hearers were familiar with and could identify with. So, as you read a parable ask yourself, “What is it that the original hearer would have connected with?” Let me illustrate using the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. The occasion is a lawyer asking Christ what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus then tells a short story parable to address the lawyer’s question about inheriting
eternal life.  Jesus uses an actual road that went from Jerusalem to Jericho as the setting for his parable. It was quite common for thieves to attack people as they traveled this road. The people were very familiar with the road Jesus was talking about and very aware of the potential of being attacked on that road. Next, he describes the condition of the man who had been attacked, and the people could identify with the injuries he suffered. Then Jesus introduces three familiar people, “a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan.”  The people understood the implications of each of these people. The priest is a servant of God and the Levite is a servant of the priest with both possessing a knowledge of the law of God regarding how to love your fellow man. Yet, both passed by him. This is stunning to the people. Then comes “a Samaritan,” a representative of a group of people hated by the Jews and who hated the Jews in return. He comes and does what the people would have expected the priest and Levite to do. In turn the priest and Levite do what they would have expected the Samaritan to do. Finally in verse 37 Jesus drives home the point saying, “Go and do the same.” The point is that man himself is incapable of doing this every time. His propensity is to care for himself. So, Jesus is driving home to this self-righteous lawyer his inability to fulfill the Law and his need for salvation in Christ. His teaching packed a punch!  So, enjoy the parables you read in the coming days and be like a sponge absorbing all you read!
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