Jesus' Parables - Revealing or Concealing Truth?

Musings in CMi and the Bible is a 12-part series on each of the 12 Dimensions of Culture of the Cultural Mapping Inventory (CMi). You can find the overview article here.

This musing is on the dimension of Connecting. Do you easily include people in a group when they happen to be at the same place, or are meetings and discussions an exclusive thing for the people involved, and others should wait for their turn? This dimension speaks to the extent we share information, “need to know only”, or “free to know for all” and how easily we include outsiders in a conversation. 

Jesus and Parables

The first things most people think of about Jesus are his miraculous birth, the miracles He did, or his death and resurrection. And then there are his teachings and… the parables.

Jesus told many parables, stories He used to illustrate a truth or teaching. Sometimes the parable was the teaching.

A parable is a form of Indirect Communication. It draws on common knowledge shared by the speaker and the listeners, uses stories that are familiar to the listeners and may not even mention the topic at hand. Other times it does, like in the Kingdom Parables that start with, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”

 However, in Jesus’ case, many times even these listeners, like his own disciples, didn’t understand the message of the parable. There was another Dimension of Culture at play as well, the dimension of Connecting.

The question that lingers in my mind is whether parables were always used to illustrate and clarify the meaning of a message or were they sometimes meant to obscure it. Was Jesus Inclusive in his Connecting to the crowds or Exclusive?

What the Bible says about Jesus’ parables

In the gospel of Matthew, a whole chapter (13) is dedicated to Jesus speaking in parables. It starts off with the Parable of the Sower where Jesus compared the receptivity of someone’s heart with a field. In a rural society, people are very familiar with the relationship between properly preparing a field and the quality of a harvest. Yet Jesus’ disciples had no clue of the meaning of the parable and asked Him for the explanation and also asked why he was not explaining the parable to the crowd. (Most of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, not farmers but still, farming was all around them!) 

Jesus’ answer to their, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” is striking!

He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand…” (Matthew 13:11-13, NIV)

Apparently, some parables were meant to be understood by insiders only, which is an example of Exclusive Connecting. Exclusive Connecting prefers to freely share information with a small group of insiders and the others will only hear what they “need to know” in the eyes of the sender. Like in-group/out-group behavior. Inclusive Connecting doesn’t mind sharing information freely with a larger group of people. Ironically, the insiders, Jesus’ 12 disciples, didn’t understand the parables either, but they did get the explanation in plain language afterwards.

This Parable of the Sower is also the clue to who are part of this in-group that could understand the parables and who are not. Parables must fall on fertile ground to make sense! Otherwise, its message will be dismissed as irrelevant.

Sometimes Jesus did include the meaning of the parable in his teaching and the parable was truly meant to help people understand his teaching. An example is the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32). Other times, the meaning of a parable was very clear to the hearers. Take a look at the parable of the tenants (Matthew 21:33-46). A lot of these two types of parables were spoken against an unbelieving crowd and the religious rulers of the Jews who saw Jesus as competition to their power, privileges and authority.

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.
Used with permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Published October 12, 2023 

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