For believers reading these stories today, how are we meant to understand the true meaning and Jesus’ purpose behind His parables?
In the Bible, one common concept that intrigues believers and nonbelievers alike is Jesus' use of parables. Even the most well-versed scholars can have grave difficulty applying these biblical truths to every day life, and asking the big question, "How does this relate to my life today?"
Jesus Christ preached profound truths through His storytelling. With supernatural wisdom, Jesus, who was fully God and fully man, met humanity where they were through the stories He told, reaching hearts in ways that people of that time could better understand.
But for believers reading these stories today, how are we meant to understand the true meaning and Jesus’ purpose behind His parables?
What Is a Parable?
Unlike fables, stories that are made up and use animals to teach lessons, a parable is a story that Jesus used to exemplify heavenly truths here on earth. Essentially, a parable is a simple subject or concept used to illustrate something with a deeper meaning. It's an allegory, a story, poem, or picture interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning. Often using analogies, a comparison between two things used for clarification, or figurative language, parables have a way of teaching us hidden truths unseen and unknown to the basic human understanding.
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Why Did Jesus Speak in Parables?
So why did Jesus speak in parables? At a glance, it isn't easy to pinpoint why Jesus would speak in allegory rather than speaking plainly. Parables can be hard to understand! I mean, how am I the light of the world and the salt of the earth? What does a speck in my eye have to do with the log in my best friends? Am I indeed light and salt? Is there a physical log in my eye?
Questions like these are ones that the people of the Scripture and humanity still ask today. But instead of telling His listeners outright, Jesus chose to speak in parables for more than one reason.
Presenting His message more powerfully, Jesus spoke of logs, specks, light, and salt to give us a deeper insight into Christ. Just as an English teacher stretched our minds to think beyond what is seen, Jesus did the same. Comparing light and salt to our influence on the world creates a powerful visual image.
When Jesus talked in this way, He would also guard the truth against unbelievers while revealing and illustrating it to believers. These matters not only fulfilled prophecies and captivated His audience in a compelling, practical, and memorable way, but exposed wrong motives in our hearts.
Matthew 13:10-13 of the Amplified Version writes:
"Then the disciples came to Him and asked, "Why do You speak to the crowds in parables?" Jesus replied to them, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has [spiritual wisdom because he is receptive to God's word], to him more will be given, and he will be richly and abundantly supplied; but whoever does not have [spiritual wisdom because he has devalued God's word], even what he has will be taken away from him. This is the reason I speak to the crowds in parables: because while [having the power of] seeing they do not see, and while [having the power of] hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand and grasp [spiritual things].” (Matthew 13:10-13, AMP)
As a master storyteller, Jesus defines His reason for speaking in parables in Scripture quite plainly: Those who believe can understand what He says because they believe in Him. They will stretch, grow, be open to the truth, and develop as mature Christians.
However, those who do not believe in Him devalue what He says before He even says it and will not understand. Humans cannot know or discover these things on their own unless God reveals it to them. On our own, logs, specks, light, and salt won't make sense. Not everyone was intended to understand Christ's message, but those who choose and decide to believe are drawn from darkness to light. Parables separate those in darkness from those in light.
What Are Some of Jesus’ Best-Known Parables?
If we have chosen to believe in Jesus, we too can grow and mature from what these parables teach us. Not only did Jesus use these stories in His ministry to keep our attention, but also to help us retain and share His message. Although He is the master storyteller, He wants us to become master story-sharers of the transformative truth of life that saves.
The Salt and Light
In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus describes believers as the salt and light of the world. Just as the sun rises every morning and salt flavors our food, we too can grow with hope, positivity, and a warm glow of saltiness that professes the gospel. We are Christ-like flavoring to the world.
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, NIV)
To be salt and light to the world not only means that we have the importance of salt and light, but that we are a lamp and guide to light the path for others to follow. No one wants to use salt that has lost its taste or a lightbulb that has gone dim and grey. As believers, we are called to share this light and salt, not hide them under a bowl until we forget them.
The Speck and the Log
Just as we are to be the salt and light of the world, we are not to be logs and specks causing problems. Jesus writes about this parable in Matthew 7:
"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5, NIV)
Present, past, or future, Jesus calls each of us to look out for one another. However, he does not ask us to point out others' flaws while forgetting about ours! Although it might sound extreme, pointing out that my boyfriend is a procrastinator without working on my addiction to busyness is pointing out his speck without dealing with my plank. If I yell at a student in my class for being impatient, I am also impatient, demonstrating this hypocritical behavior Jesus is trying to reveal to us.
The next time you approach a parable in Scripture, ask God to check, align, and speak to your heart. Only those in fellowship and communion with Him can understand His Word, but we can be given such a blessing. Parables might take time, energy, and patience to understand, but they speak to the eternal beauty of heaven that will someday rest within us.
Bible Study Tools: The Parables of Jesus
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Amber Ginter is a teacher-turned-author who loves Jesus, her husband Ben, and granola. Growing up Amber looked for faith and mental health resources and found none. Today, she offers hope for young Christians struggling with mental illness that goes beyond simply reading your Bible and praying more. Because you can love Jesus and still suffer from anxiety. You can download her top faith and mental health resources for free to help navigate books, podcasts, videos, and influencers from a faith lens perspective. Visit her website at amberginter.com.