Why Did Jesus Teach in Parables?
Compared to His earlier teaching during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus's turn to parables might seem odd. He'd used clear instruction to teach His followers how to live and about the Kingdom of God, and He'd exhibited the Kingdom in a tangible way through His miracles. But suddenly, when the crowds come to hear Him, He hops into a boat and speaks in parables, stories about sowing seeds and gathering wheat (Matthew 13).
When the disciples ask Him why, since they obviously noticed the change, His answer may seem even more astonishing: "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but to them it has not been granted" (Matthew 13:11). In other words, the parables are meant to divide the crowd. While this may seem as if Jesus denied some people access, the difference He means is not in the message—but in the response.
The parables themselves present clear stories from everyday events that many in the crowd would recognize. Jesus did not code His teaching to prevent some people from understanding, since all equally would understand the imagery. All those gathered there certainly comprehended the aspects of the stories related to their everyday lives. Instead, His teaching divided the listeners into two groups based on their own responses.
His miracles had attracted many, and others had perhaps been astonished by His earlier teaching. But the parables themselves, just as in the story of the seed falling on various places (Matthew 13:3-9), revealed the true nature of their responses and their real decisions. Those committed to the Kingdom of God would seek and find further understanding. But those uncommitted—perhaps listening only because of the initial excitement—would reject the teaching as unintelligible.
Adapted from The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim (Book III, Chapter XXIII).
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