In his time in this world, Jesus was known as a popular itinerant preacher and storyteller. The world of the ancient Near East was much simpler than that of our modern society, with our smart phones, computers, and other sources of endless entertainment. In a typical ancient Near East village the sources of entertainment were song, dance, and storytelling. In this context, Jesus was an honored guest when he entered a village, and he was especially known for his storytelling which, unlike that of his peers, often used parables to tell stories. Inthe Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the Gospel of John is written in a very different styleand has no parables), there are around 60 parablesattributed to Jesus.
Parables are analogical ways of making a point and are designed to be understood by those who hear them. One of Jesus’s more famous parables is the Parable of the Sower. Every fall in our church we hear the version of the story told in the Gospel ofLuke:
And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And ashe sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture.
And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Then His disciplesasked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?” And He said, “To you it has been given to know themysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that
‘Seeing they may not see,
And hearing they may not understand.’
“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out oftheir hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, whenthey hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures oflife, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep itand bear fruit with patience.
There is an interesting wrinkle in this parable; Christ explains it to his disciples - something we donot encounter in other places - and quotes the Book of Isaiah: “Seeing they may not see and hearing they may not understand.” This seems counterintuitive -aren’t parables told in such a way to make things more understandable rather than less? The point Christ is making here is that it takes commitment to be a Christian. Christ tells his stories in a certain way, but we need to put in the effort to truly understand them.