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Lesson 1: Parables

Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

– Matthew 13:34-35 (NRSV)

This week we examine the unique way Jesus taught through parables. A parable is a short story based on a familiar life experience which usually compares two things to illustrate a theological point. The word comes from the Greek “parabole.” “Para” means “to come along side or compare,” and “ballo” means “to throw” or “see.” A parable is a succinct story with a “throwing beside,” a juxtaposition. Whereas a fable uses animals, objects, or natural forces as characters, a parable places human characters in a situation to teach a spiritual lesson. People compare them to jokes in that someone hearing a parable either “gets it” or does not. Like a joke, it is difficult to explain the story without losing the power of the moment.

Devotion: Read Matthew 13:1-23. The planted seed represents the “word” of God’s reign which faces the challenge of finding good soil in the world (13:24-30). Satan can steal the opportunity for the word to be implanted. Trouble and persecution arising from obedience to God cause some to fall away. We can focus on worldly care and wealth rather than our calling. But the reign of God comes in spite of obstacles! Those who receive the word bear fruit (Mt 3:8, 7:15-20; Jn 1:1-5, 14). What does “word” mean in this context? How would you define “bearing fruit?” Give examples of someone who bears fruit. How do the evil one, trouble, and worldly cares prevent fruit from being produced? What spiritual disciplines and habits help you hear, understand, and bear fruit? Is it possible for all types of soil to be present in one person?

Personal Worship Option: Read 1 Corinthians 2:14-16. Those who follow Jesus and seek to be led by the Spirit have the mind of Christ. What obstacles (evil forces, trouble, persecution, worldly care, wealth) tempt you to close off your life from what God desires to do within you?

Dig A Little Deeper:

This is the first of seven parables grouped together in Matthew 13. Read Matthew 13:24-53. How do the other parables expand the ideas presented in the parable of the sower?

13:3 In Jesus’ day, farmers cast seed on the ground and then plow, turning the seed over with the soil.  

13:10 The disciples assume parables are for outsiders (“them”). Jesus responds that parables fulfill Isaiah 6:9-10. Jesus, like Isaiah, demands a radical change of life based on God’s desires. Many of us are willing to accept modifications in our actions or beliefs, but few of us are open to the total transformation of how we live. Jesus’ words invite people into vulnerability. Jesus wants our desires to reflect God’s desires. He wants our hearts to surrender to the Spirit. Hard hearted people refuse to listen or see (12:25-37). Only those willing to grow have ears to hear.

13:16 The disciples are blessed because they see firsthand what prophets and the righteous throughout history longed to see. How blessed are we compared to the disciples?

13:18 Many feel this explanation is a later addition by the early church since the allegorical interpretation shifts. First the seed is the word, the soil the one who hears, and the enemy is the evil one. Later, the hearers are equated with the seed that is sown on the rocky ground. Then the hearers are the soil again, before being compared again to the seed. If this passage represents the early church’s interpretation, how might that change how we read the original parable?

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