Last evening the Life group which my wife and I host began a study of some of the parables of Jesus. In our previous meeting I’d given the group the following sheet introducing the study.
“Parable” has been defined as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” Jesus told numerous parables during his ministry, of which we’re going to consider the nine for which The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups gives a questionnaire for beginning groups:
• The Wise and Foolish Builders (Matthew 7:24-29)
• The Sower (Matthew 13:1-23; also Mark 4:1-20 and Luke 8:4-15)
• The Unmerciful (Unforgiving) Servant (Matthew 18:21-35)
• The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
• The Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21)
• The Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24)
• The Lost (Prodigal) Son (Luke 15:11-32)
• The Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14)
• The Talents (Matthew 25:14-30; also Luke 19:11-27)
Please let me know of any other parables of Jesus which you would like us to consider.
This evening though we’re going to consider Matthew 13:10-17 in which Jesus answered his disciples’ question, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”
10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14-15 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
‘You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart and turn,
and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)
The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups asks these questions on the passage:
1. Why do you think Jesus used parables as his teaching device? What do parables accomplish that simple and direct speech lacks?
2. How does Jesus’ challenge in verse 9 help explain verses 11-12? How does faith open you up to more spiritual insight?
3. How does the quotation from Isaiah (vv. 14-15) explain the difficulty of understanding parables (v. 13)?
4. In verses 16-17, Jesus gives a new beatitude. What have these disciples seen and heard that the prophets longed to see and hear? Are we included in this blessing, or was it only for the original disciples? Why do you think so?
(Used by permission of Serendipity House, Littleton, Colorado 80160)
In the meeting we discussed the questions from The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.
1. One of us suggested that a parable makes hearers think about how it applies and we discussed how this is true. In his commentary on Matthew, C. H. Spurgeon observes, “The usual reasons for the use of parable would be to make truth clear, to arrest attention, and to impress teaching upon the memory” (The Gospel of Matthew, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell, page 167).
2. In verse 9 Jesus concluded his telling of the parable of the sower by issuing the challenge “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (ESV). We discussed how the believer’s faith enables him or her to find meaning in a parable and the unbeliever’s lack of faith prevents him or her from finding meaning in it. I noted that Jesus’ going on to explain the application of the parable of the sower to the disciples suggests that sometimes even believers need help (from the Holy Spirit and others) in understanding how a parable applies.
3. I shared my answer with the group: “In Isaiah 6:9-10 God decreed that Isaiah’s ministry to the people of Judah as they are described in Isaiah 1-5 would harden them and ensure their judgment. Similarly the ministry of Jesus, including the parables, would harden the hearts of those who didn’t believe in him, in particular the religious leaders, and so ensure their judgment.”
4. We agreed that what the disciples saw which the prophets had longed to see and hear was the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and we agreed that we are included in this blessing. One of us suggested a Scripture passage confirming the latter, but I neglected to write down its reference–sorry!
After the discussion I gave the group a sheet containing the following:
Some Guidelines for Interpreting the Parables of Jesus
In our group study of the parables of Jesus, we’ll use the questionnaires provided for beginning groups in The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups. However I won’t distribute the questionnaire on a particular parable until the meeting in which we study it. If you wish to prepare for our study of the parable, use the following guidelines in doing so.
1. Identify the details of the parable as a story–when and where it took place, who was involved in it, what happened in it, and why those things happened.
2. Note who the original hearers of the parable were and, if possible, why Jesus told the parable.
3. Determine how much of the parable was explained by Jesus himself and whether there are any clues in the context concerning the parable’s meaning.
4. Identify the central truth of the parable as a whole and determine how it relates to Jesus Christ and/or to the kingdom of God both as it has come and as it is to come
5. Determine how the central truth of the parable applied to the original audience and how it applies to us today, which may be the same as how it applied to the original audience.
Feel free to comment on the questions and/or to suggest parables for us to discuss.