Describe from Luke's Gospel, how Jesus presented his teachings through parables.
Religious Studies Coursework 2001
Christianity Through a Study of Luke and Acts: Coursework Title 4
A) i) Explain the term ‘parable’
The word ‘parable’ comes from the Greek word ‘parabole’, meaning a comparison or analogy. A parable has also been described as ‘an earthly story with a heavenly meaning’. Some of Jesus’ parables are comparisons as they compare what is known and familiar on earth with the Kingdom of God, which is spiritual and less familiar. For example, in a parable in Luke 13:20 Jesus says ‘The Kingdom of God is like…a woman who takes some yeast.’ In this way, from the Bible, one can deduce parables are stories that convey teaching and is usually based on everyday life. A parable usually has one key teaching that the listener has to work out, which is why Jesus often used them in His teaching.
ii) Describe from Luke’s Gospel, how Jesus presented his teachings through parables.
Jesus often used has parables in His teaching and 90% of His teaching recorded in Luke are in the form of parables. At one stage, it was said of Jesus, ‘He would not speak to them without using parables’. He used parables to convey his teachings because people liked to listen to stories, and so, were attentive when he preached. Parables are also memorable and He wanted His listeners to remember the teachings behind the stories and provoke a response from them. This encouraged them to think for themselves and once they had worked out the meaning, they were more likely to remember it. Parables were easy for ordinary people to understand as they related to things that were familiar in everyday life, and it is because of this that Jesus used them to portray things less familiar in the spiritual world and in the relationship between God and man. They were also used to answer those who confronted Jesus; as different people were in conflict with Him, especially the religious people, such as Pharisees, because they did not agree with what he taught, He responded to them with a story. It is in such a case that Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep, in Luke 15:1-7.
Parables were useful in the teachings and ministry of Jesus for the spiritual truths they portrayed, were, and still are, essential in establishing Jesus as Messiah and the Kingdom of God on earth. Each of the parables in Luke’s gospel conveyed something about God’s Kingdom, for example, the parable of the Sower in Luke 8:4-15 where Jesus uses the image of a Sower scattering seed on four different types of soil or land; on the path, on rocking ground, among the thorn bushes and on good soil. He then goes on to explain to the crowds what seeds and each of the types of land represents. “The seed is the word of God. The seed that feel along the path [and eaten by birds] stands for those who hear; but the Devil comes and takes the message away from their hearts in order to keep them from believing and being saved. The seed that fell on rocking land [and when the plants sprouted, they dried up because the soil had no moisture] stand for those who hear the message and receive it gladly. But it does not sink deep into them; they believe only for a while but when the time for testing comes the fall away. The seed that fell among the bushes stand for those who hear; but the worries and riches and pleasures of this life crowd in and choke them, and their fruit never ripens. The seeds that fell in good soil stand for those who hear the message and retain it in a good and obedient heart, and they persist until they bear fruit’. In this way the parable teaches that when the message of the Kingdom is preached, people respond in different ways. Some people became fruitful for the Kingdom and acquire the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
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In the same way, the parable of the mustard seed in Luke 13:18-19 compares the Kingdom to a mustard seed sown in a field. “The plant grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make their nests in its branches.” The parable almost prophesies to the people about what the church would become. It was to grow from small beginning into something significant, which would give shelter and protection to people.
The most important teachings that Jesus used parables to convey were God’s care for the lost. Religious people in the time of Jesus would not have readily received this message and so using a parable as a vehicle was necessary for people to even consider His message. The parable of the Lost Sheep taught that Jesus is ‘The Good Shepherd’, who cares for that one sheep out of a flock of a hundred, so much that He is prepared to lay down His life for that sheep. As the shepherd, He would “leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one until [He] finds it”. And when he does “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent”. The parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32) also was important for revealing the love of God. The father, who represents God the Father, forgives his son who squanders all his father’s money away, living a reckless life, while his older brother stays at home, working for his father. When the reckless son returns home with a repentant heart, the father welcomes him with arms and reinstates him into the family, treating him like a guest of honour. This ‘lost’ son represents sinners and gentiles, while the hard-working son impersonates godly people or Israel. As most of the people who challenged Jesus’ teaches were Jewish Pharisees, they would have been particularly against this teaching as in the parable the father divided his money equally between to two sons, suggesting the Kingdom of Heaven belongs equally to sinners as to Israel.
b) Describe the meaning and relevance of parables to the belief and life of Christians today.
Parables have a significant meaning and relevance to today’s Christians as they still convey the teachings of Jesus about the Kingdom of God, Love for one another and the importance of prayer. Although based on life 2000 years ago, they can still be related to today.
As in the days of Jesus people like to listen to stories and parables are today as then, received well be the people listening. People hear the messages in parables and remember them as their counterparts did in the time of Jesus, as He designed His parables to remain in the minds of those who heard. Today many people remember the parable of ‘The Good Samaritan’ (Luke 10:30-37) and the story of ‘The Lost Son’ (Luke 15:11- 32). Just as Jesus wanted His listeners to remember His teachings, Church leaders and Christians, want parables to have an affect on non-Christians and fellow Christians alike. Thus they are important to the Church in preaching the Kingdom of God or teaching about His love for the lost. People are more ready to adopt the teaching if it is presented in a clear and easily to compressible.
On such parable is that of ‘ The Lost sheep’ (Luke 15:1 – 7) through this we are taught about God’s care and love for the lost and outcast, and learn that Jesus is ‘The Good Shepherd’. He would leave the rest of His flock, the people who have found God and continue to obey Him, to find one lost sheep, to touch the lives those who are without God or have strayed from Him. The shepherd care so much that he was ready to lay down his life for his sheep. With hindsight Christians can see this parable demonstrate what Jesus’ death on the cross was for, the lost.
Christ’s teaching about prayer, the Lord’s Prayer was delivered through the parable of ‘The Friend at Midnight’ (Luke 11:5-8), thus bring to light the importance of parables as prayer is an important part of Christian life.
Parable have the same meaning to Christians of today as they did 2000 years ago and although the physical relevance such as sowing seeding, has passed the spiritual relevance such as the importance of prayer, is as strong as ever. The meaning of the teachings is still the same, as the Kingdom never passes nor does God’s love for man. People may not keep sheep, or sow seeds today, but people still need to know that ‘there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine respectable people who do not need to repent’ and that they should ‘seek first the Kingdom of God.’
‘These parables are still relevant today’ Discuss.
Parables are stories that are symbolic of something else or a comparison of something familiar to something unfamiliar in order to give an explanation of the alien situation.
The parable of Jesus provided a comparison of the unfamiliarity of the Kingdom of God and His relationship with man, and the everyday situations of the world those listening lived in.
One might argue that Jesus’ parables are irrelevant, as the situations that occur in the parables do not happen today. For example not many people, if any, are shepherds or seed sowers today, whereas in the time of Jesus these were common jobs.
To say that parable are completely irrelevant, undermines some of teachings of Jesus. It would be like saying ‘Christian teaching has no place in today’s secular society. Although some of the details of His parables are out of touch with modern times, the teachings are timeless and have an important place in the Church and make up the core of Christianity.
Parables still convey the teaching of Jesus just as they did in He first told them, teachings that are still important in modern Christianity. The instruction on prayer is still as significant as ever, portrayed through the story of ‘The Friend at Midnight’, we are told to ‘ask and [we] shall receive’.
Most importantly, the relevance of parables comes through in the teaching about the future of the Kingdom of God, and that which is yet to come. The parable of ‘The Narrow Door’, we are told to make every effort to enter through 'the narrow door’ because the day will come that ‘ the master of the house will get up and close the door’ and entry will no longer be possible. The possibility of not making it into the Kingdom of God is a something Christians should keep at the forefront of their minds as they seek to please God.
We know parables still have some worth as ‘The Good Samaritan’ still answers the question ‘who is my neighbour?’ and people can still relate to the feelings of the elder son in the parable of ‘The Prodigal Son’.
Parables can act as guidelines and so be applied to present day problems. And with some effort some of them can easily adapted to the modern world as many have been.
Even parables do not relate to the physical world today, they still do relate to the spiritual world. They still teach Christians, old and new, about the Kingdom and God’s love for them.
Today’s society may be non-religious, but some parables are not just about Christianity but humanity in general. ‘The Good Samaritan’, instructs not only on how to be a good Christian but also, how to be a neighbourly human being. The teachings of Jesus, about our neighbours and outcasts, through parables make not only a good foundation for Christian communities, but for any society.