Parables ... Symbolism... Something standing for something else, or meant to remind you of something else. Sometimes it seems quite mysterious - complicated and obscure. The thing is that the word for "mystery" in Greek contains a technical meaning - something unintelligible to outsiders, but clear to those initiated into the mystery. When you get it, it truly expands your understanding, and when you don't, you're left with rather more of a feeling that it's another one of those stories that really has no purpose, but shows how great Jesus is, and you move on.
So to bring another joke here: Young Assisant Pastor Bill was giving his 427th children's sermon. "Now kids," says Pastor Bill, "What's green, lives in the pond, sits on a lily pad, and hops?" The children looked at each other with vacant eyes as silence ruled that magical time. "Surely, someone has an idea?" Finally, little Susie stood up and said, "Well, it sounds like a frog, but it must be Jesus!"
How many times have you walked away like Susie thinking, well, I probably just don't get it, but that's okay?
So for a more modern twist, have you seen the movie, "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe"? Did you find it to be a great kids' story about good and evil? Did you know the symbolism for Aslan to be Christ; the stone table to be the "Old Laws" written on stone tablets; the White Witch to be Lucifer; Peter to be the Apostle Peter; Susan to be Mary; Edmund to represent Mankind; and Lucy to represent children and the innocence and faith of a child? Did the understanding of those symbols change the story for you at all? How many have seen the Matrix Trilogy and found it to be a relatively cool sci-fi series, but kinda confusing? And if you put the Christian overtones in, does the movie take on a bit more depth?
Christ said of parables in Mark, Chapter 4:13 and 25:
And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables? ... For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.Parables are the subject of much study for Christian scholars and apologists. Fr. John Hemer wrote an excellent essay on parables in which he said:
The only way the crowd can understand with the heart is to experience a collision, an offence, and then if they can get beyond that they have faith. If they can’t they remain in scandal. But, if they are not in any way put out by what Jesus says (think of the Vineyard labourers) if they simply fit what Jesus says into their world, they will never really come to faith but will imagine that they have. A parable can obstruct truth or reveal it – it depends on the attitude of the hearer.
So Jesus shows both possibilities: 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. With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: `You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.' (13:13-15)
But a little further in the same passage he says: All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world." (13:34-35)So when we listen to the parables, perhaps we should challenge the easy understanding, put in a little more historic context and what the norm was for the listeners at the time. Then do the same thing for ourselves - challenge our own "easy" understanding and see if maybe there's more to the message for all of us.