Jesus often taught in parables. His disciples didn’t understand all of them, so fortunately, after telling a parable, Jesus would sometimes explain it. Even then, it seems that the disciples were frustrated and confused by this method of teaching by Jesus.
In Matthew 13:10 (NIV): “The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?'” To a fairly simple question, Jesus gave a complex, confusing answer: “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables.” Jesus then quoted from Isaiah about people hearing but not understanding and seeing but not perceiving because their hearts had become calloused. “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.” (Matthew 13:16)
In fact, though, the disciples didn’t always see or hear or understand. Jesus repeatedly told them about his death and resurrection, but they didn’t get it. They were perplexed and then distraught. After the crucifixion, a few women who had seen for themselves that Jesus’s body was no longer in the tomb told the apostles what they had seen. “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” (Luke 24:11)
I guess since the apostles didn’t understand a central part of Jesus’s mission (his death and resurrection), I shouldn’t feel too badly about failing to always grasp the meaning of Jesus’s parables or even the reason he taught in parables. It bothers me, however, because maybe I can’t see or hear or understand.
Sometimes, we’re told that if we just keep reading the parables, we will figure them out. But take the parable of the shrewd or dishonest manager in Luke 16:1-5, one I wished Jesus had explained.
A rich man discovered that his manager had been wasting the rich man’s possessions. He demanded an accounting and made it clear that the manager would be fired. As a means of ingratiating himself with the rich man’s debtors so they would help him once he no longer had a job, the manager, on his own, discounted the debts owed to the rich man.
In Luke 16:8-10: “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with try riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give your property of your own?”
I don’t understand this parable. As best I can tell, neither do scholars, theologians, or preachers.
Someone once told me that I shouldn’t worry about being unable to interpret Jesus’s parables or the reason he taught in parables. She said she had noticed that after a parable was told, Jesus often led his disciples into acts of love and kindness. Maybe Jesus taught in parables to lay the foundation for those acts, and maybe those acts will wipe away any confusion and help me understand.