A Perspective on the Parables
The most significant adversary Jesus had to contend with were the Scribes and Pharisees. They constantly barraged the Lord with questions to trap him into looking like an imposter as the Son of God. The Jews believed the Messiah promised by God would free them from tyranny and expected to see this savior arriving on a white stallion with a sword to rid their nation with a quick swipe of his mighty arm. To their dismay, Jesus just didn’t fit their biblical expectations. If anything, the presence of Jesus became an adversarial stigma and the ruling entity of the Jewish community had to deal with it.
In his response to many of the attacks, Jesus used similes to express a truth countering the very questions put forth by the Pharisees. Any one of them were successful in proving a fact that for a while stunned the listeners’ immediate response. It would take more than these encounters to completely condemn the Lord.
Matthews Gospel contains most of the parables and the reader must carefully dicsect the meaning of each and the results they contained.
Mt. 5: 27. “You have heard that is is said, You shall not commit adultery, but I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This particular section is one of the responses to the Sermon on the Mount. We all have heard this statement and shudder at the fact not many are free from a situation as this. However, to the Pharisees who felt they kept the law of sins against adultery and believe they are perfect found that their hypocrisy had convicted them.
Mt. 20: 1 ff. The story of workers being chosen to work in the fields of a wealthy farmer with the last to be hired earned the same pay as the first. The Jews, again, accepting the fact that God brought their ancestors out of Egypt and promised them they would be his chosen people, felt that Gentiles could not be accepted by God. However, their dominating attitude was a deterrent to accepting God’s desire to allow everyone an opportunity to share his love. This parable places the Jews as the first to hear his word, but because of their rejection of Gentiles they have taken last place. Remember Jesus telling the Pharisees “that prostitutes and tax collectors are entering the kingdom of God before you.” Mt. 21: 31.
Lk. 15: 11 ff. Perhaps the most impressive parable is Luke’s story of the Prodigal Son. There are three characters highlighted in this story. The Father (God), the younger brother (Gentiles), and the older brother (Jews) each with a specific role in the story. The younger brother (Gentiles) wanted his own way and taking his share of the inheritance went off squandering the gifts given by God.
The Father (God) waited patiently for the younger brother to return and when he sees him coming home prepares a feast for him. The younger brother was contrite and accepted the forgiveness of his Father. Mean time the older brother was infuriated and would not come in to the celebration for the younger brother’s return. The Father (God) pleaded for him to accept his younger brother saying; “we must rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” The older brother (Jews) felt there were no others whom God would accept due to their sins. But, the younger brother (Gentiles) accepted the Father’s (God) forgiveness. A reminder of the last sentence from Matthew above; prostitutes and tax collectors are entering the kingdom of God before you.” Mt. 21: 31.
Adultery and the lust of that sin are both equally wrong. Jesus reminded his listeners not to be too quick to parade our holiness. The example of lust reminds everyone that the thoughts or desires of the same sin is also deadly.
This parable of the workers in the field reminded his listeners that because the Jews thought of themselves as always being the chosen people is not enough when they rejected Him who was sent by God. The prostitutes and tax collectors did accept Jesus as to whom he is.
Finally, this scripture passage completes the very essence of the ministry of Jesus. The following describes the very meaning of these three parables.
“He was in the world and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his people did not accept him.” “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by man’s decision but of God.” (Jn. 1: 10 - 13).
Ralph B. Hathaway, September 2021