O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old–
what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us.
This is one of those beautiful prophetic descriptions of Jesus that the Old Testament is littered with. Jesus did speak in parables quite a bit, and often the parables are hard to understand. Even the disciples are often perplexed by their meaning.
It can seem, sometimes, like Jesus is speaking in riddles. In fact, I’ve felt at times that the whole Bible is sometimes hard to apply directly to my circumstances. Sometimes I wonder, “why isn’t there a verse telling me exactly what to do when faced with XYZ issue?”
I suppose the answer to that question is this. If the Bible did have a direct answer to everything, no library in the world would be large enough to fit all the volumes it would have to be. There’s just too many “what if’s” to cover. And besides, as time progresses, cultures, nations, technology, and everything around us changes little by little. Nobody in 33 AD cared about Facebook etiquette and very few people today can relate directly to the life of a Sheppard.
So instead of “giving us a fish” Jesus focuses on “teaching us to fish,” so to speak. He tells us stories so we can relate to the people involved. If you understand someone’s situation you understand more about why God wants them to do one thing rather than another. You don’t have to be a Sheppard to relate to one when you are listening to a story. You understand the basic idea is to take care of the flock so when Jesus says that he takes extra care to find the one that has gone astray, you understand his larger point (that God is seeking to save the lost).
One more (BIG) reason why Jesus talks in parables is this: We just don’t have the mental capacity to understand some of the truths of heaven without being there. He speaks of the “Kingdom of Heaven” often, but always in parables or vague word pictures that don’t make any Earthly, scientific sense. There’s a reason for that. We can’t wrap our heads around something that is not of this world.
Last note: I love the way the Psalmist also says that these are “things from of old” that “our fathers have told us.” It reminds us that God is consistent throughout scripture. He doesn’t change his story. Contrary to a secular view that the Old Testament and New Testament are radically different, I believe that the Lord is and always will be the same God. You just hear about different sides of his personality in different stories throughout the Bible.
So I’m thankful God speaks in parables. By doing so, he teaches us in a way that forces us to think through his lessons and really understand them on a deeper level. Brilliant.