All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed he said nothing to them without a parable. 35This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 13:34-35 RSV2)
I love telling stories. As a Christian writer, I find I can express so much more through a story than I can through all the expository language I can mutter. There’s a deep reality to a good story that goes beyond the words that a writer puts together in order to share his thoughts and feelings. When I tell a story, particularly to children, and someone asks, “Is that a real story?” I want to stand up and shout with all my heart, “YES! YES IT’S REAL. IT’S AS REAL AS YOU CAN GET!” I’m sure the person asking would find me quite mad if I did and so I restrain myself, but it’s something I believe with all my heart.
When I write a story, I’m not just entertaining; I’m speaking truth and beauty into the world through the words I write. That truth and that beauty come from inside me and yet they really come from something outside of me. Anything good that I have ever written has come from the Spirit of God living inside my heart. Otherwise, I’d just be uttering selfishness and meaningless dribble. Like Jeremiah, I have so many words inside me that are screaming to get out, and I burn inside until they have spilled out onto the document through my keyboard. Sharing truth and beauty is just one of the best parts of story-telling.
Character and Christian Transformation
Helping people to get to know that characters in my stories is the other best part. They are so real to me that they feel like separate people trapped inside my head. Once I bring them to life, they seem to go in their own directions, growing and developing their own ways, acting according to their own personalities. The dialogue for my stories isn’t something I need to plan; the characters I create just take over and speak the lines for me, taking the plot where it is meant to go. I’m often surprised by the direction my characters take my stories and I’ve often felt out of control, though I’ve found that to be one of the most exciting aspects of writing my stories.
Jesus spoke in parables as well. He brought characters to life from all different places in society: farming, business, the temple, fishing, and even from places his hearers didn’t always find pleasing. When one of His characters spoke, his audience could instantly relate in some way, even if that way was by rejecting what He said. He used objects from the world: sheep and seeds, grapevines and olive presses, storms at sea and flowing fountains, beautiful flowers and birds of the air. Everything had a deeper reality. Everything reflected the divine truth and beauty within Jesus that He wanted to pour out upon a public thirsty for living water. His stories were so real that I’m sure that at least the children present were compelled to ask, “Is that story real?” to which I’m sure our Lord would have answered, “YES!”
The Promise of the Savior’s Parables
Did Jesus really speak only in parables? That’s what Matthew says, and I don’t believe he was referring to one specific event in his Gospel. I think everything Jesus said was spoken through the reality of symbol and sign: from large pots of water turning into rich wine to five loaves and fish turning into a banquet from the heavenly realms; from a leper being cleansed of his diseases to a temple being cleansed of the corruption of the marketplace; from broken bread and poured out wine becoming His Body and Blood to a man on a cross being broken and poured out for our salvation. Everything Jesus pointed to in the world around Him pointed the people back to God. The values or virtues they assigned to earthly treasures were meant to open their eyes and give way to the eternal treasures of heaven!
John told us at the end of his Gospel that if we could record all that Jesus said and did there would not be enough room in the world for all the books that would be written (John 21:25). I don’t think that’s hyperbole. I’ve often wondered if many or even all of the parables Jesus told came from real things He had experienced. I’ve imagined that one day He witnessed the Good Samaritan taking care of a bruised and battered man, that He met the merchant who had found the greatest pearl or the man who had found the treasure hidden in a field. Maybe He had seen a Master who gave generously to all the workers regardless of when they started their work day. Or maybe He had seen a group of foolish bridesmaids running into town to find oil just as a bridegroom was about to enter the house! And if you add to all this the whole of man’s existence on the earth from the very beginning, just think about all the things the Lord had seen before coming to earth as a man! Perhaps the stories he told were real stories after all!
Truth, Beauty, and Parable Speak
While it’s fun to imagine such things, the truth is, each and every story Jesus told had a reality all its own: a truth and a beauty that spoke to the hearts of His hearers, a tale of the journey of humanity from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane. He spoke of the love and compassion of His heavenly Father and of what it meant to live in the Kingdom of God. And in all the stories – or maybe we should say, in the entire story of humanity – the central figure was Jesus Himself, the Son of God, speaking salvation to all of us, offering forgiveness and redemption through the most glorious chapter of the cross!
As you go about your day today, take time to read one of the parables of Jesus. Think about how it speaks to your soul and what message it has for you to fulfill in your words and actions today! Then go become a part of the larger story of salvation that is unfolding every day!