Updated: Jun 19, 2020
"Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable." Matthew 13:34
Jesus most commonly taught through a type of story known as a parable.
Stories can be a powerful way of communicating complex ideas. We identify with the characters and we may sympathize with different elements of the story-line. Beyond this, parables contain truths that must be mined, that must be extracted. They take work.
While virtually all cultures have some sort of a story-telling tradition, this is a less common form of teaching in the West. To the typical Western mind, the story is simply a vehicle to carry some idea. We want to explore the idea divorced from what may seem like the silly packaging of a parable. This is a mistake. Quite often the story itself carries layers of complexities that would be difficult to transmit in other ways.
Stories are treasures. The parables of Jesus are treasures beyond treasures. For example, the parable of the lost sheep illustrates his heart to seek and to save the lost in a way that was particularly relevant to his audience, and is still immensely powerful today. Following that story is the famous parable of the prodigal son, which further explores and elaborates the heart of our loving, heavenly Father, who comes running to receive us when we return to him with a repentant heart.
One of my favorite parables is found only in Mark (4:26-29). To paraphrase, a farmer scatters seed, and while he sleeps, it grows. He doesn't understand how. That's it. That's the whole parable. While it is an extremely short and simple little "story," it communicates in a powerful way that God is causing the seeds to grow. In the same way, he is causing the seeds of the Gospel that we plant to grow. Even while I sleep. I don't understand how.
While we use the whole counsel of scripture, we primarily engage our students with the parables of Jesus. They are alive and active, and through them the Holy Spirit continues to engage the hearers. Like the seeds that grow without the farmers effort or understanding, we can know in faith that the seeds of the Gospel that we plant are growing.
Our students come to us as Muslims and as Hindus. They come to us as atheists and agnostics and Buddhists. And yes, some come to us as Christians. We tell them about Jesus, and we teach them using his own stories and parables. And they keep coming back. Some have come to know him! Please pray with us that many more will, as well.
He will cause the seeds to grow. Even while I sleep. I don't know how...