It is apparent to anybody who has read the first four books of the New Testament that one of the teaching tools commonly used by Jesus during his ministry was the parable. There are a total of 33 different parables recorded in the books of the Gospel, with 17 of them included in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, 5 in Mark, and 23 in Luke.
But what exactly is a parable?
If you were to consult a modern dictionary for a definition of the word parable you would probably read that a parable is a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle or moral lesson.
Although this is clearly an accurate definition, it does not give us a full insight into a biblical parable.
To better understand what a parable is, we need to investigate the origin of the word.
The English word parable comes from the Greek word parabole which literally means to place alongside. So a parable compares one thing to another.
In Eastons Bible Dictionary this comparison is further explained as being a comparison of earthly things with heavenly things, making a parable an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. And that is exactly what Jesus did, in his parables he would compare an aspect of everyday life with a truth about the kingdom of God.
But Jesus did not stop there.
One common characteristic of the parables he told was that they would contain a twist which would have been totally unexpected by the original listeners. In fact not only would it be unexpected, it would in many ways contradict or question beliefs they had held for years.
For example, a Samaritan - who would be despised by the orthodox Jews and considered as being unworthy of God - ends up as the hero in a story that includes Jewish priests. Wealthy kings whose normal concerns are with their own wealth and power cancel huge debts owed to them by mere servants.
This is not your normal behavior, which of course Jesus knew. He also knew that it was because of these strange and unexpected twists that the parables would grab the attention of those who heard them. You could argue that Jesus was the original shock jock.
Parables also communicate beyond their original audience. Although rooted in the life and times of Jesus, the teachings found in the parables transcend that culture and speak to us today in images that are still powerful.
The word pictures painted by Jesus in his parables are just as clear today as they were two thousand years ago.
Despite the fact that we may not realize today that a Samaritan was despised by the orthodox Jews of his day, we certainly know what a good Samaritan is. Many of us have either been one or have been grateful to have been helped by one.
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