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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bible Parables

During his ministry in Palestine about 2000 years ago, Jesus travelled among the towns and villages, healing people and teaching them new spiritual truths. He taught in many different ways. Sometimes he put across his meaning with parables — stories or short illustrations in which concrete images drawn from everyday life conveyed his spiritual message.
At other times he delivered sermons, or discourses, using a familiar form to convey often revolutionary ideas. Even in one-to-one encounters he taught, simultaneously proclaiming universal truths and touching individuals where they hurt most deeply. Sometimes he addressed only his closest followers, or disciples; sometimes he spoke to a crowd of people. He found his audiences from all walks of contemporary Palestinian society.
Jesus was put to death by the Roman authorities — abbetted by some Jewish religious leaders, who believed he was a blasphemer against God — probably some time in the early AD 30s. But his followers did not forget what he had done and said; in the second half of the first century, they wrote down what they considered to be the most significant moments in his life.
The Gospel Writers

This story, told in separate accounts by four of Jesus’ followers, became known as the Gospel (“Good News”). Because the versions written by Mark, Matthew and Luke look at Jesus’ ministry from a similar point of view, they are known as the Synoptic Gospels. The Gospel of John, thought by scholars to have been written later than the others, contains miracles and incidents that the other three Gospel writers omitted.
Each writer had his own structure and emphases, aiming his account at a particular readership. Mark’s Gospel, for example, is thought to be the earliest and therefore to contain the closest record of what Jesus actually said. Some scholars believe that what he wrote was derived from the sermons of Peter, Jesus’ foremost disciple. Matthew wrote for a mainly Jewish readership, drawing heavily on Old Testament references and prophecies, while Luke aimed his Gospel primarily at Gentiles. John’s Gospel, which was also intended mainly for Gentiles, is more reflective than the other three.
To appreciate the teaching of Jesus, it is helpful to try to understand what Jesus intended it to mean to his contemporaries, as well as the interpretation put on it by the first Christians. Modern biblical commentators think that the earliest believers sometimes adapted Jesus’ sayings and stories to particular concerns relevant to their own current needs. In the parable about the Ten Wedding Attendants, for example, Jesus seems to have told his listeners that the kingdom of God — the reign of God on earth — was imminent. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, however, the first Christian preachers seem to have adapted the story to warn the faithful to prepare themselves for the Second Coming of the Lord — the moment when Jesus would return again to inaugurate the end of the world.
Parables, Sermons and Conversations
The teachings of Jesus can be divided into three sections. The first contains Jesus’ parables, which he used to illustrate topics and themes, such as the nature of the kingdom of God, His compassionate mercy toward sinners, and the need to be prepared for the Last Judgment.
Although many Jewish teachers at the time of Jesus used stories to teach religious principles, Jesus’ teaching stories stand above the rest for their originality and depth. About a third of Jesus’ teaching, recorded by the four Gospel writers, takes the form of parables. The parable itself is a story that uses comparison to illuminate a spiritual truth, usually with images and examples taken from everyday life.
Some of Jesus’ parables were illustrations that presented examples of model attitudes. The Good Samaritan for example, who cared for a man who had been beaten and robbed, represents the paradigm of the loving neighbour. Jesus sometimes presented allegorical parables, in which the details of the story corresponded to specific people or situations. Thus, in the story of The Wicked Husbandmen, the servants represent the Jewish prophets, the tenants are the Jewish religious leaders, and the king stands for God. At other times, Jesus’ parables were not really stories at all but rather similitudes — short comparisons between two objects or situations.
The second section consists of sermons and discourses that Jesus preached to his disciples and others in the district of Galilee and Jerusalem. Among these are the Sermon on the Mount, which contains the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and some of Jesus’ best-known sayings. The third section consists of a selection of conversations Jesus had with various individuals. They include people from differing backgrounds and circumstances, such as Nicodemus, a learned Pharisee who came to talk to Jesus privately at night in Jerusalem, and a woman of Samaria, who met Jesus by a well.
Jesus’ words provided inspiration to those who first heard them and are still relevant today. Christians of every generation have pondered their meaning and treasured their imagery and poetry, and they have inspired some of the finest Christian art. Those who find the sayings and stories familiar may discover fresh insights. Those who read Jesus’ words for the first time may find, like many before them, that his is the ‘message of eternal life (John 6:68).

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