October 21, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: Renewal of Parables

See Luke, Chapters 12-19

After the feast of Hanukkah in Jerusalem, Jesus spent about three months on the eastern side of the Jordan River, neither in Galilee nor in Judea, but in Perea. There wasn’t a lot of activity, but a great deal of teaching. Once again, Jesus resorts to parables. Luke’s Gospel reports them in the chapters referenced above. I’m not going to comment on all of them, but you can refresh your memory if you’d like.

The parables Jesus spoke earlier in his public ministry, shortly after his Sermon on the Mount, concerned mainly human society. His later ones pertained more to the human soul. Although they all relate to the kingdom of God and the individual’s acceptance or rejection of it, the kingdom itself is seldom mentioned.

It’s worth noting that sexual sins aren’t mentioned at all in these parables. Jesus didn’t mention breaches of the Ten Commandments, although some of the actions of the characters in his parables might violate one or another of them. The sins Jesus attacked can generally be grouped under the heading of worldliness, and the worst sin was hypocrisy. His greatest virtue was humility, exemplified by the prayer of the tax collector contrasted to that of the Pharisee, or the guest at a wedding banquet who was advised to take the lowest seat.

Several of the parables demonstrate Jesus’ concern for the lost—the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son—and God’s love for the repentant sinner. Probably Jesus’ most famous parable is that of the Prodigal Son, and Christians must examine their consciences to see if they resemble the son, the father or the father’s older son.

Some of the parables are somewhat difficult for us to understand, such as that of the dishonest steward whom his master commended. It must be understood in light of the common practice in Jesus’ day for agents, acting on behalf of their masters, to exact usury from debtors. The steward was dishonest when he squandered his master’s property, not in any subsequent graft. The master commended him for forgoing his usury in order to ingratiate himself with the debtors. The parable taught the prudent use of one’s material goods.

Jesus taught dependence on God with his parable about the rich fool, persistence in prayer with his parable about the persistent widow, and the necessity of using the talents we have been given with the parable of the 10 gold coins. He illustrated the future proportions of the kingdom of God from its small beginning with the two parables of the mustard seed and the yeast.

Interspersed among the parables are other teachings. He advised his listeners to strive to enter the kingdom through the narrow gate, thus stressing that great effort is required. He also emphasized the total dedication required of his followers by saying that those who came to him must “hate” their family members—certainly a bit of hyperbole to get his point across that a disciple’s family must take second place. †


Local site Links: