Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. Matthew 13:34
It’s easy to overlook the most common way Jesus spoke to people. I’m not so much concerned here with the why, but with the how: He spoke in parables.
Parables, unlike allegories, are stories that intend to convey a single truth (whereas allegories have many details that correspond to the many applications of the message).
Jesus, using the creativity of a parable, stirs the mind of the hearers, allowing their own creativity and imagination to arouse new thoughts about old topics.
I find it interesting that most recognize that his parables don’t need to be true stories in order for them to contain truth – but no one every really talks about them that way. It seems, we just don’t know if the parables Jesus taught were ‘true stories’ – and in all honesty, it doesn’t matter, because they are ‘truth stories’. Parable time was not history telling time, that was a known fact – and, like today, it was an accepted fact. What mattered was that hearers could connect to the content of the stories, regardless if those humans in the stories actually existed.
Let me illustrate. We all know about the cartoon The Simpsons, and we all know that Homer is a fictional character, and so is Ned Flanders, and so is everyone else in the cartoon. The cartoon is not a ‘true story’ – but, the reason many enjoy this cartoon (and every other movie, book, and tv show) is because there is a truth to the story. What I mean is that there are people in the world that we know that are very much like Homer, or Ned, or Bart, and the stories being told are (less often in the genre of the exaggerated reality we call humour) stories we can relate to – events that make up our lives.
It will be a helpful consideration as we read and seek to interpret Scripture that is that there is an important difference between ‘true stories’ and ‘truth stories.’
To make sense of this, we need to recognize that Jesus wasn’t telling parables in order to teach of some “timeless principle” that is too easily and often displaced from history. He was telling of the reality in which we are living; the reality of the Kingdom that is happening now. These were certainly not “true” stories, but they were truth stories; revealing the way things are happening right now in history. Some of these parables are given their interpretation (Mark 4), and others are retellings of the Story of Israel (Mark 12). Either way, they were told in a way that allowed hearers to relate to it and make it their own – not only telling of the present reality of the Kingdom, but inviting hearers to enter into it.