The Parable Explained

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, January 10, 2018 0 comments

by David Odegard

Haddon Robinson once said about his students, “The bright ones get it.” After all of his years teaching people how to preach, he understood that the listener has to bring something to the table if they are going to understand any given message. Some (but only some) of what passes for poor preaching is in reality poor listening.

Jesus was a master storyteller. He wove intricate concepts and interpretation of Scripture into simple stories. Once heard, these stories remain in the mind. Jesus created a myriad of unforgettable characters like the Good Samaritan, the Persistent Widow, the Unjust Steward, the Good Shepherd and so on. These characters are true to life and they live in our hearts and minds. They illuminate our perception of the world.

These stories were not accidentally created. Jesus knit them together, not out of spun yarns, but out of keen observation of the human condition—the condition He came to heal. Large crowds gathered to hear Him preach or watch Him perform a miracle. They came for a show, but Jesus disarmed His opponents as He gave them the words of life in story form.

A good parable is like a depth charge. It slips past the defense mechanisms and sinks deeper and deeper into the psyche without any alarm whatsoever. Then suddenly a flash of light, a deep rumble, and the parable is understood. The listener is forever changed and the parable remains.

Jesus did not explain His parables to the large crowds; He reserved that for His disciples. Imagine Jesus showing up to your college campus and because He is constantly in the news, a big crowd students and faculty forms to see what He is all about. The crowd quiets because it senses that He is about to lay some heavy truth on them. Jesus says, “A farmer put certified seed in the hopper of his seeder and pulled it through his field. Some of the seed was planted in alkali soil, some in thin, dry soil, some among weeds, and some in really good soil.” That’s it. Jesus walks away leaving the crowd to figure it out.

Some of the people are frustrated because they don’t understand the parable at all and it seems unfinished. Some of them would say, “That’s it? Who is he? Some sort of gibberish-spouting mystic?” Others would not give Him a second glance as they hurry to class. Still others might discern the kernel of truth thinking, “I sort of get it. He is saying something about us, something about how we conduct our lives.” But then the person gets a text and snaps back into her world, dropping the thread of Jesus’ idea altogether.

But a few listeners, the bright ones, get it. They realize that Jesus is saying that only a few will listen in order to understand. Those few who do listen, understand. To understand Jesus is to understand the core truths about humanity. In other words, it is to gain wisdom—practical skill at living life which satisfies us and gives us overflowing joy. It conveys skill in acquiring the Good Life.

In my humble attempt last week at a parable, the rain stands for the Life. As the Apostle John wrote in his first letter to the church, “The Life appeared, we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us” (1 John 1:2). Jesus is the Life. He is the source of all life and the sustainer of all things. Humanity wallows in death. They forgot the good life; Jesus came to resuscitate them, to remind them of true life (see more here).

Old hickory limbs, loincloth Merlin, he stands for the pastor, the man of God who is responsible for a community. That community is comprised of believers, but they are not separate from the world in a commune. The community of believers is in the world and Ole’ Hickory has a responsibility to the lost people who live in the shadow of his tribe.

The garden represents the fruit of our walk with God. We receive the Life and it is our provision. We always want more—demand for the good life always exceeds supply as far as we can tell. We want God to do all the work for us. We want Him to hook us up to an IV and let us sit in front of the television. But that is not how life with God works. The Apostle John reports Jesus’ words this way, “You must remain in me and I in you…” (see John 15). We have to work to develop our life in congruity with the life of God. If we are lazy, we will not experience the good life.

Ole Hickory realizes that we must help take care of one another in this walk of faith. By diligent seeking of God and the Life that is in Him, the preacher can help others to be connected through faith. The effect is an abundant life (see Psalm 1) for all. Those people in turn help others and suddenly there is an atmosphere of discipleship created.

In the parable, some people are slower to take the focus of themselves (they just keep showing up with an empty pumpkin wanting it to be filled). These people represent the many people in church who are focused on themselves, what they want to get out of a service, “their” ministry opportunities, how they demand to “be fed.” Selfishness always, always, always cools genuine love. Love is self-sacrificial by its very nature. Selfishness is an opposite.

In my parable, the hundred-fold tribe is a local church. As the congregation catches the vision and participates in the ministry of Christ to the world, they experience the Good Life for themselves and as a natural extension they are able to share with the world around them. The people are only too happy to share God’s Life (see Matthew 28:18-20).

The starving people represent those who are separated from God, from the true Life. They beg, “What must we do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30-33). But having been saved themselves by tapping into God’s Life, the church can answer with the confidence of Isaiah 55:1. There is plenty to go around!

The end of my parable shows a healthy church, a steady stream of newly saved people, and a satisfied pastor who knows that they dug in to the resources God supplied and they fulfilled the Great Commission. He and the congregation are poised to hear the “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). My parable has a happy ending, which was created by a few strokes of a pen. But dealing with human resistance to God’s will is much harder in real life. So, we must pray and preach and love and wait for people to open their hearts to the Good Life that God gives.

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