Why Parables?

Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Matthew 13 contains a collection of parables that Jesus used to communicate his message. His followers wanted to know why Jesus used parables, because they seemed so hard to understand. They “came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?'” (Matthew 13.10).

Jesus responded like this: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.'”
(Matthew 13.11-15)

There is a lot of information packed into Jesus’ answer. How do we understand these words? There are several ways of approaching what Jesus said.

If you follow Jesus . . .

If you are following Jesus, you can expect to understand what he teaches. Everyone who follows Jesus can ask him to explain things that are difficult to figure out.

Jesus is present in our lives through the activity of the Holy Spirit. John wrote, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie — just as it has taught you, abide in him” (1 John 2.27).

When John wrote about the “anointing,” he was referring to the Holy Spirit. It is a good practice to ask the Holy Spirit to open our understanding when we read the Bible. He will help us understand what we are reading.

Please note, God prefers that we align our lives with his will than that to seek answers for curious questions. The man was very right who said, “It is not what I don’t understand that bothers me. What bothers me is what I do understand and I am not doing it.”

Jesus promised his followers that they would receive an “abundance” of information about his ways (verse 12). That only makes sense. If you are working for a business, it is good business sense for management to give workers all of the information they need to do their jobs well.

The same is true of our relationship with Jesus. He called us to join him in his life-giving mission to the world (Matthew 28.18-20). As the best leader of all, he is certain to give us all of the knowledge we need to join him in his work.

If you don’t follow Jesus . . .

The message is quite different for people who have made the choice to not follow Jesus. They will not know the secrets of the kingdom of God. What is more, Isaiah’s troubling prophetic word will apply to them.

Isaiah spoke to a nation that was characterized by rebellion against God. The people aligned themselves with substitutes for God (idols) and only pretended allegiance to God. They continued participating in religious activities, but their religion did not change their greed, their oppression of others, and their pervasive devotion to their own self-centered desires.

When the gateway of self is dominated by self-seeking, self-pleasing, self-will and more, it is like the door to our heart is barricaded by an enormous and unmoved blockade of self-interest. The words of a prophet, whether he is Isaiah or Jesus, will serve only to cause the self to kick back in rebellion. Words about God’s rule produce a push back from the core of the person, because self-rule is unwilling to yield.

Paul, the Apostle, is a good example of this kind of hardness. As Paul fell to the ground in a life-changing experience, Jesus spoke to him from the heavens: “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26.14).

A goad was a sharp-pointed stick that was used to direct the path of oxen. Paul had received plenty of “kingdom” information from Jesus’ followers, but all he did was to kick back against it and block it from changing his self-centered approach toward life. It took the grace and power of Jesus to break down Paul’s barrier to the life Jesus wanted to give him.

For those who resist the message of what God is doing in the earth, their only hope is to fall off the “horse” of their own self-sufficiency, pride, and rebellion. I praise God for the many people I know who reached “rock bottom” and quit kicking against the “goad” of God’s direction.

Parables as Communication

Parables are often used to communicate a message that people would refuse if given to them in a straightforward manner. King David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed. God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David over what he had done.

Nathan used a parable to get David on the side of what was the right thing to do. David agreed with Nathan and said, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity” (2 Samuel 12.5-6).

It was then that Nathan could say to David, “You are the man” (2 Samuel 2.7).

Jesus often uses parables to get our attention and to cause us to think about our own situation before him. For example, this chapter contains the parable of the sower. As we analyze the three problematic fields of the parable, we are given a chance to dig deeper into our own lives and see how we might be like one of them.

One of my friends sent me a text after reading yesterday’s blog article on the parable of the sower. He said, “I am like all of the fields at one time or another.” I sent him a text back that said, “Me too.”

Learning from Jesus

The most important thing to consider as we read Jesus’ explanation to his disciples is to resist substituting our own selfish pride and rebellion instead of following Jesus. Everything good that God has for us will come as we follow him.

Today’s Prayer.

Dear Jesus, thank you for your grace that makes clear problems that we can face with our self-will and self-centered lives. Please help us respond to you and follow you completely.


  1. One of the beautiful things about Jesus’s parables is how the Holy Spirit gives us something different from each story based on where we are in the moment. Encouragement, comfort, discerment, correction, direction, challenge, peace. Our understanding changes with both our need and our heart condition. Being open to Jesus lets us soak up more of what He has for us.

    It makes me sing “How wonderful, how marvelous is my Savior’s love for me.”

    Liked by 1 person

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