Why teach in parables?

Jesus preaching to his followers
Jesus preaching to his followers

Often times, when Jesus was preaching, he liked to use parables. Whether he wanted to make the people think deeper or wanted to draw the attention of his listeners, much of the message was not understood by them and often times they struggled. In this article our correspondent Kezzie Mkandawire writes some of the reasons Jesus used parables.


Jesus did not give great speeches to the people. He explained the meaning of the kingdom of God, and what God is like by parables. During this Lenten season, some Gospel readings are in form of parables which Jesus Christ is utilising to emphasize spiritual lessons for us to pick up and use them to up our Christianity. But what are these parables?

Parables are vivid and realistic stories, with images of nature and human life. To tell parables means to put things side by side, that is, to say things in a different way. Through the parables Jesus makes daily life things speak about the kingdom of God. Ideally, parables do not need interpretation for Jesus’s listeners. The interpretation given in the text is meant to bring up to date the parables for later listeners of the Christian Community.

The parables of a good Samaritan [Luke 10:25-37], a rich man who had a good harvest from his land [Luke 12:17-21] and the man who gave a great banquet and invited a large number of people [Luke 14: 15-24] show the way Jesus tells his disciples [and us] to behave. With the parables of a good Samaritan, Jesus answers the question: who is my neighbor?

He gives as an example the conduct of a Samaritan. Everyone who needs me is my neighbor, no matter what their religion, race, and social class. The parables of a rich man, who had a good harvest from his land, show us the social responsibility that wealth has.

A rich man, for God, is one who shares his wealth with others, and the last parables, of a man who gave a great banquet and invited a large number of people brings hope. It reminds us that God knows other unexpected ways to fulfill his plans. In the end, the room of the banquet in the kingdom of God will be full.

The purpose of the parables of the sower who went to sow his seed [Luke 8: 4-15] is to awaken hope. Although the seed is lost, the fertile soil gives its fruit a hundredfold. This will happen in the kingdom of God, inspite of all the failures.

Luke 15 is made up of three parables. They are about three lost things: sheep [Luke 15: 1-7], coin [Luke 15: 8-10] and son [Luke 15: 11-32]. These parables deal with something that is lost and later recovered. Jesus answers his adversaries, when they accuse him of living with sinners and sitting at the same table. Jesus rejects this criticism, because God does this with sinners. God acts as shepherd, wife and father in these parables. His critics should not imitate the example of the elder brother in the parables of the prodigal son.

They are also invited to the feast and to rejoice over this meeting.  To understand the teaching, it is vital to note that all three stories are directed to the Pharisees and scribes [and us], who reject “sinners” from table fellowship. The parables of the lost sheep remind us of God’s initiative and persistence in seeking out those who are lost, and his great joy when they are found.

The parables of a landowner going out to hire workers for his vineyard at different times but paying them the same amount despite starting at different times underscores the fact that God is different from man. He does not follow the law of balance between service and reward. He acts with total kindness.

He is just acting this way because he does not take anything from the salary promised to workers. The true salary and reward are God’s love and kindness. We, men, guide ourselves by the principle of work reward and we imagine that God acts the same way; that is why this parables is scandalized so much… and continues to scandalize.

Finally, the parable of a man who went abroad and gave different talents to his servants before he left [Mt 25: 14-30] makes clear that the gifts of God have their corresponding obligations. He who has received much, the one who experiences the love of God, must share this love and work energetically for the kingdom of God.

We will all have to account for our gifts and faculties given by God.  On our judgement day, Jesus will not ask about words or programs, he will ask about specific actions. He will judge us on our behavior with other people, especially towards the needy ones. Jesus cannot admit a true love for God without love for human beings. To such an extent does God identify himself with the needy ones.

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