This study differs from the others in that this is a study of a type of literature. Jesus taught using parables, so we know they are important to our spiritual growth. However, we need to be very careful that we do not miss the main point and that we do not twist the parables to make them match our viewpoint.
First, let’s look at what makes a parable. A parable is defined as “a short, simple story intended to illustrate a moral or religious lesson.” A parable places an ordinary, common event or occurrence next to a more complicated idea so that we can better grasp the similarities. These similarities will help us understand the more complicated idea. Thus, we can understand what we do not know based upon what we do know. One important point to remember about parables: each parable has one main spiritual truth.
Looking at Matt. 13:10-17, we learn that Jesus taught using parables because of the hardness of people’s hearts. They believed they could “understand” God and His teachings on their own. Therefore, Jesus taught using parables to “hide” the truth from those whose hearts were hard. However, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can uncover these truths.
1. Choose a parable. Read it through several times.
2. Since our understanding of the parable depends upon our understanding the story or illustration, we need to make sure we understand what is taking place. Because Jesus’ parables use illustrations from His life, we may have a difficult time relating to the places, events, or characters. Therefore, we need to identify all the “parts” of the parable and make sure we truly understand what Jesus is saying. We cannot assume we understand.
For example, when Jesus talks about sheep, we need to look closely at how the Israelite shepherds kept their flocks. When He speaks about vineyards, we need to look at the process used during Jesus’ time. When He includes people like Samaritans, Pharisees, Levites, or priests, we must look to see who these people were and how people viewed them during this time.
So, this is the first step. Identify the major parts of the parable and make sure you understand what is going on from Jesus’ perspective.
Several books are available on the times, customs, and manners of the Bible. Also, commentaries can help shed some insight.
3. After reading the parable and doing the necessary background study, write out a short summary of exactly what happens. Include your added insights but avoid interpretations at this point.
4. Look for the main point of the parable. Each parable has a specific lesson or moral or spiritual truth upon which we are to focus. This does not mean we will not encounter other truths, but it does mean that we should focus on the main point. For example, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, we can see that the main lesson centers on God’s forgiveness. There are other lessons, such as the younger son’s wasteful living and the older son’s jealousy. We need to let the parable drive the point. We must not arrive at our interpretation and make the parable match it.
5. Write down the main point of the parable. (If you have a difficult time finding this point, then use a study aid.) A word of caution: let the Holy Spirit guide you. God may lead you in a different direction than the one stated in a study aid. However, He will never lead you in a direction that contradicts any other aspect of His teaching.
6. After writing down the main point, list the observations or details in the parable that support the point or help you understand it. Note, you may not use every detail in this process. We must be careful not to get so bogged down in the details that we miss the most important point.
7. Now, take the points you have learned from the “known” and apply them to the “unknown.” This is the most important step. Jesus uses common events (such as tending sheep or keeping vineyards) to teach us about the Kingdom of God. So, when we apply these lessons to the spiritual point, we have revelation. This is the part that is hidden from those with hard hearts.
8. Write down what you have learned about Jesus or His Kingdom. Decide how you are going to incorporate this into your life. Also, meditate on how you can share this revelation with others so they can better understand Jesus.
For example, the following is one of the shortest parables: Matthew 13:33
told them another parable. “The kingdom of
heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour,
till it was all leavened.”
To understand what Jesus is saying about the kingdom of heaven, we need to learn something about leaven and about how women made bread during this time. How much is three measures of flour, and how much leaven would they add? What happens to the leaven? As we study this parable, we will find that this is one of the few times Jesus uses leaven to represent a good thing.
Once we learn about the leaven, we arrive at the main point of this parable: leaven will spread throughout all the flour changing all of it.
Now, we apply this to the kingdom of God. Leaven is a small but powerful change agent. It only takes a little to affect a large amount. We may be small in the kingdom of God, but we can have a powerful influence. Also, this can refer to the work of the Holy Spirit Who works God’s will into every aspect of our lives. Once that happens, we can’t go back.