Parables in the Gospels represent a key turning point in Jesus’ public ministry. By unfolding the details of parables, we can better understand their purpose and context in Jesus’ teaching. In preparation of this upcoming Sunday’s Gospel on the parable of the sower, Dr. Sri unlocks the secret of parables to help us integrate them into our lives.
Snippet from the Show
“The more we understand the historical context of these parables, the more we can make a direct application that really challenges us today.”
The Purpose of Parables
Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of parables is not to simplify the mysteries of the Kingdom. In the Old Testament, the world “parable” in Hebrew is defined as a cryptic saying that is used to stimulate thought. In the Old Testament, parables were used to humble, challenge, and move the Israelites towards repentance. They were often used to challenge corrupt leadership. One of the most iconic parables in the Old Testament is the parable of the poor man’s ewe that the prophet Nathan tells King David in 2 Samuel 1-15. Nathan uses this powerful parable to confront David about his sin of adultery and murder. Nathan specifically uses the story of the poor man ewe’s to emotionally draw David in since David was a shepherd as a boy. This parable deeply resonates with David, and he quickly identifies himself as the rich and sinful man in the parable. In this moment, David repents and realizes that he has sinned gravely against the Lord. We can see David’s repentance in Psalm 51.
The Surprise of Parables
The parables represent a radical shift in Jesus’ public ministry. The disciples were surprised when Jesus began teaching in parables.
“Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘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 him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him 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.’”- Matthew 13: 10-13
Jesus began preaching in parables as a direct response to something tragic that happened earlier that day. Earlier in chapter twelve of Matthew’s Gospel, the Pharisees began plotting against Jesus to destroy him. They didn’t like his teaching and the way he was interacting with sinners. Jesus begins using parables to highlight the corruption and hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
Parable of the Sower
“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”- Matthew 13:18-23
Jesus uses the parable of sower to challenge the crowds, the Pharisees, and the disciples. In the parable, the sower represents God, and the seed represents his Word. In this parable, Jesus is asking all of us if our faith is taking deep root in our lives. Ask yourself where you are in this parable and examine your conscience!
- The seed that falls on the path is a reference to the Pharisees. They do not understand the scriptures, they think Jesus is a false prophet.
- The seed that falls on the rock is a reference to Jesus’ followers who do not want to follow him to the cross.
- The seed that falls on the thorns is a reference Jesus’ followers who do not want give up their earthly possessions to follow him.
- The seed that falls on good soil and bears much fruit is a reference to those who embrace Jesus’ teaching fully.
Parable of the Prodigal Son
The parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 is an invitation to the Pharisees to welcome sinners as they repent and turn to the Father. The imagery of feasting is seen in Jesus eating with sinners who were often marginalized in society. In this parable, the Pharisees are challenged to see themselves as the older brother in the parable who grumbles and complains at the return of his younger brother who was lost.
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- God with Us: Encountering Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew by Dr. Sri
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Dr. Edward Sri is a theologian, well-known Catholic speaker, and author of several best-selling books. His work with Ascension includes study programs such as A Biblical Walk Through the Mass, No Greater Love: A Biblical Walk Through Christ’s Passion and Mary: A Biblical Walk with the Blessed Mother. Several of Dr. Sri’s programs were filmed on-site in the Holy Land, and feature immersive video explorations of the sacred sites where Jesus, Mary, and the Apostles lived and died.
Dr. Sri is the host of the acclaimed Ascension podcast All Things Catholic with Dr. Edward Sri. Together with Curtis Martin, Dr. Sri is a founding leader of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), of which he serves as senior vice president of Apostolic Outreach.
Dr. Sri lives with his wife Beth and their children in Colorado.