Why Did Jesus Tell Parables? (part 1)
First recorded in 1939, “You Are My Sunshine” is believed to be the third best-known song in the world, trailing only “Happy Birthday” and “White Christmas.” The catchy tune has popped up in mustard commercials, in daytime soap operas, in The A-Team, and even in Star Trek. While many people think of it as a happy song with a nice melody, however, its message is not quite so cheery. The lyrics, which present the story of a person being betrayed by a lover, make it a much gloomier song than many realize. Obliviously, people joyfully sing the chorus without realizing the underlying story.
The parables of Jesus were like that. Jesus would tell a story packed full of life-changing spiritual truth, but if the people were not paying attention, they would think they were just hearing a nice story. It wasn’t that the message was hidden from them; they just missed it.
And it didn’t happen just once or twice; this was a regular occurrence. In fact, Matthew 13:34 tells us that Jesus never spoke to crowds of people without telling at least one parable. But why? Or perhaps more specifically, why wasn’t Jesus more direct? After all, the crowds often walked away confused after hearing a parable. Why would Jesus not be more obvious?
Jesus’ disciples asked that very question and this was His response:
“For they look, but they don’t really see.
They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.
This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says,
‘When you hear what I say, you will not understand.
When you see what I do, you will not comprehend.
For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to Me and let Me heal them.’” (Matthew 13:13-15, NLT)
It was not so much that Jesus did not want the people to understand; it was that the people were not prepared to understand. They did not want to understand. Many who heard Jesus speak were not interested in spiritual truth. They wanted to see Jesus perform one of His famous miracles, they wanted to see what the excitement all about, or they simple came out to see Jesus because their friends were there. It was the place to be, and they didn’t want to miss out.
But they were not seeking spiritual truth. So when Jesus told His parables, it was not so much that they couldn’t understand; they just didn’t care to understand.
On the other hand, the message was clear to those seeking to understand. In the very next verse, Jesus told His disciples, “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear” (Matthew 13:16, NLT). They were receptive to His message, so they were enabled to understand His parables.
As you read the stories of Jesus—or any part of the Bible for that matter—open yourself to its truth. Allow the heart of Scripture to resonate with your heart; invite God to give you eyes to see and ears to hear.