Why did Jesus speak in parables?
If you have read the Gospels you have probably noticed that Jesus often spoke in parables or stories. But have you ever asked yourself why? Why were stories so important to Jesus?
Matthew 13:34-35 gives us one answer. Jesus spoke in parables to fulfill prophecy and to hide (for a time) his purpose. But I think there’s a larger purpose and significance to why Jesus spoke in parables.
I think Jesus understood something about stories that we often miss. That is that there’s power in stories.
Why Did Jesus Speak In Parables?
Several times in the Gospels Jesus is approached by someone and asked a question. But rather than respond with an answer he tells a full-blown story. He didn’t have too, a simple answer would have done the trick.
Regularly in Jesus’ sermons and teachings, he uses illustrations, parables, and stories. He didn’t just give lectures of facts, he painted pictures with his words. He didn’t have too, it probably would have been easier to just say the facts.
Here’s what I’m getting at. Stories are greater than lectures. Now I’m not saying lectures, or teachings, don’t have their place. But on their own lectures, facts, and information fail to bring about meaningful change. Stories are far more effective at bringing about life change.
Jesus understood the power of stories and used them to inspire and bring about change in his audience.
But I think there’s even more we can learn from Jesus. Why did Jesus speak in parables? Let’s look at the power of stories.
Here’s 4 reasons stories are powerful.
1. Answers Aren’t As Important As We Think
In our western culture, we tend to overemphasize the importance of the answer. To us, knowledge is power and information is king. I’m not saying they are not important, rather they are not as important as we think.
Have you ever noticed how Jesus sidestepped a lot of the questions asked of him? He often ignores the question and talks about something seemingly totally different. It might seem like he’s ignoring the question or just being a little ADD. But he’s not. He knows their heart and he goes straight there.
Sometimes the answers we think we need won’t bring us what we hoped. Sometimes the questions we ask aren’t really what we are after. God gives us what we need, what we are really after. But he doesn’t always give us the answers we are seeking.
That’s why Jesus often responded in parables to the questions he was asked. He knew that the answer wouldn’t bring comfort, hope, or create life change. But a story could.
2. Stories Are Portable
A good story sticks with you. You can probably remember a story that someone told you many years ago. Maybe not all the details, but you can remember the basic premise. Stories are portable, they stay with you.
While you can recall stories years later all those facts, dates, and equations you spent over a decade of your life committing to memory quickly fade once that diploma hits your hand. Information by itself is not very portable, it’s easily forgotten.
But when a story is tied to a lesson, a lecture, or a teaching information is much more easily recalled.
This is the genius of Jesus’ teaching. He could have just come and told it how it is. After all, in him, everything was made and held together. He knew the facts, he created the facts. But he didn’t do that. Rather he told stories that had truth tied to them.
Stories are portable and when we attach truth to those stories it becomes portable too.
3. Stories Inspire
Rarely is anyone’s life changed by reading information and encountering facts. Many people just ignore facts and live by a narrative that is more exciting to them. Why? Because stories inspire. Information, and even truth, don’t.
People gravitate towards what inspires them.
Do you see the disconnect? Our schools, workplaces, parenting styles, and even many churches focus on information and not inspiration.
Truth (information) by itself falls short in creating life change for most people.
But when you pair truth with inspiration life change is inevitable. That’s exactly what Jesus did. He tied his parables to the truth about his kingdom. And it worked.
Stories inspire. We cannot expect information alone to change anyone’s life. People will direct their life towards what inspires them. That’s one reason Jesus used stories and why we should use more in our life too.
4. Stories Paint A Picture Of What Could/Should Be
We need a target, a goal, something to shoot for. Stories give us just that. Stories paint a picture of what could be. They give us a target we can point our lives at.
I don’t think stories are just good for furthering a message or inspiring change. I think they play a pivotal role in our existence. We need stories. Without them we will end up aimless.
Again, where stories become the strongest is when they are tied to truth. Which is exactly what Jesus did. He painted picture after picture of what life with him was to be like. Both in this life and in the next.
Jesus gives his followers something to aim their life at. That’s what his parables did. Stories paint a picture of what could be.
The Stories Jesus Told
Over the years I occasionally write about the parables Jesus told. I’ve long been fascinated by these stories and I want others to see the significance in these stories too. Jesus was a masterful storyteller, yet today I don’t think we give him enough credit. But once we break down the stories and understand what he was doing we will have a much greater appreciation for these stories. Along with appreciation comes a deepening of our faith.
All that to say, I think everyone should read and study the stories Jesus told. I’ve written on a few and I’m working on more.
Here’s what I’ve written on so far:
The Prodigal Son and What It Means (the best story Jesus told)
Who Is My Neighbor? (the parable of the good samaritan)
What We Need To Know About The Parable Of The Ten Talents
The Parable of the Wedding Feast (and what it means)
What We Can Learn From The Woman At The Well
Jesus was a masterful storyteller. If we let them, Jesus’ parables can still make an impact today. But these stories aren’t only for us. They are for us to share. Jesus gives us a way to share his message in an effective way. Stories are portable, inspire, and paint a picture of what could be.
Not only should we tell the stories Jesus told we should use stories in our schools, workplaces, and homes. Rather than relying on lectures to communicate our message we should tie our information to a story.
Living In A Narrative
I realize to this point I’ve written about the importance of stories without telling a story. So let me correct that by sharing the impact stories have made in my life.
Throughout this book Donald Miller looks at life through the lens of a narrative. He argues most of us settle for a boring reality when God has a meaningful narrative for us. The book shook me out of my thinking of life as day to day and moved me to see my life as a story I was writing.
I developed a new narrative for my life. I want to live a life that’s a story worth telling. With a new charge for my life I start viewing decisions through this lens, how does this add to the story I’m telling? What is the narrative of my life telling those watching? Does my story point others to God or am I living a story about myself?
I used to dread conflict, difficulties, and the fear of the unknown. But now I recognize every good story has conflict and something to overcome. If I want my life to be a story worth telling I must overcome and not succumb to the challenges in my life.
Let me end with a quote from Don Miller.
“Somehow we realize that great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are actually in. We think God is unjust, rather than a master storyteller.” A Million Miles In A Thousand Years
Your life is a story. Your life is telling those around you something about God. So, don’t settle for a boring reality most exist in. Instead, let God tell the meaningful narrative he intended for you to live.
If you want to read further, I highly recommend this book:
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