Matt 13, Mark 4
The term “Parable” (Hebrew mashal; Syrian mathla, Greek parabole) means a comparison of parallel things. In the Bible, about one-third of the Lord’s teachings are in parables, and they are found in all four of the gospels, though mostly in the synaptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Jesus normally gave a story or event that was common for the people of his day. This story would also include a symbolic spiritual component to it that would be understood by those who truly sought out its meaning.
Wikipedia tells us, “Christian authors view them not as mere similitudes which serve the purpose of illustration, but as internal analogies where nature becomes a witness for the spiritual world”. While fables focus often on animals with human characteristics, parables mostly deal with humans and everyday events: baking bread, fishing, planting, finding a lost coin, etc.
Parables were known by the Jews in Jesus’ day, as they are also found in the Old Testament The Hebrew term ‘mashal’ may also be interpreted as “riddle.” So a parable is a simple story with a riddle or hidden meaning that the listener must figure out. Since Jesus was often speaking to mixed crowds of believers and non-believers, it may be that he spoke frequently in parables that the believers could understand, but that the scoffers could not; sort of a secret teaching given out in the open.
For example, the parable of the Sower would sound just like a normal story of a man broadcasting seed across the field. In Jesus’ day, furrows and planting seed as we do today was not common. Instead, the field was generally prepared, and then seed spread about in a wide cast. This allowed for some seed to fall in many places, both good and bad areas. For the non-believing Pharisees, they might be confused why Jesus would give a story of planting that led to no real teaching. But for the followers of Jesus, they knew there was a deeper meaning, and asked him for the interpretation after the crowds had left. Herein, Jesus explained that the parables would bless the believer, but leave the unbelievers in the dark about his teachings.
Unlike myths or fables, parables are about ordinary people and things. There are no giants, magic, nor superheroes in any of the parables. Instead, we find people quietly going about their normal businesses, and acting upon a regular event (Good Samaritan, woman finding the coin, man buying the pearl of great price)..
Although modern parables are often obvious to the listener, the parables of Jesus were not. George Fyler Townsend explained it as "the designed use of language purposely intended to convey a hidden and secret meaning other than that contained in the words themselves, and which may or may not bear a special reference to the hearer or reader."
Mysteries of Kingdom of Heaven
One of the key concepts of Jesus’ parables was to prepare mankind for heaven. Only those who had the seed of faith sown in good soil of the heart would grow in the gospel faith. Those who had sinned or lost their faith could search diligently for it, even as the woman sought for the lost coin, and in finding it may rejoice with the saints of God. Those who recognize the gospel as the truest treasure, even a pearl of great price, will sell all they have and do anything necessary to possess it. The kingdom of heaven requires a valiant and lifelong effort to attain. It cannot be had by lip service, but only by true service.
That Jesus meant for the parables to be understood only by his true followers is affirmed by his own words:
“9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
“10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
“11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
“12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
“13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
“14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:
“15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matthew 13).
Jesus followed his own advice of not casting pearls before swine. When people are ready to hear the gospel, they shall humble themselves and learn to truly hear.
The apostle John would use such teaching with the seven churches of Asia:
“7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
“11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
“17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.
“26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
“27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
“28 And I will give him the morning star.
“29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev 2).
"4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
" 5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
" 6 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
“12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
“13 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
"21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
"22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev 3).
We see that learning to have a listening ear and heart, allows us to understand the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” Today, much of this we learn in the temple, where modern day parables teach believers the sacred secrets of being like Christ-like and prepare them to enter into the presence of God. For those with a listening heart, they can see that Jesus’ and John’s parabolic promises for the true hearers are tied with the teachings in the temple. And it is there that we find the pearl of great price: Jesus highest teachings for those seeking to know the mysteries of heaven.
Parables of Jesus - Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parables_of_Jesus
Parable - Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable
Parable - Catholic New Advent Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11460a.htm