Other than the fact that parables were “the established teaching method” of his day, Jesus used parables for other reasons. Jesus was dealing with concrete realities, not abstract ideas, and illustrated these realities in ways that were easy for the people to grasp.
Concerning his audience, there was one basic difference between the Greek listener and the Jew, the Greek could argue for arguments sake all day, while the Jew was interested in reaching conclusions, and even more, these conclusions had to be taught in such a way that they led to action.
The question in the listeners mind was, ‘what must I do?’ Yet this method extends beyond a particular race, in a particular time and place. All of us tend to think in pictures on some level or another (most people have difficulty grasping abstract ideas). Jesus gave us these cameo-like pictures in the form of parable to make these ideas comprehensible. A parable has been defined as ‘an earthly story with a heavenly meaning’. Jesus used earthly things to lead men’s minds to heavenly things.
Barclay again, ‘Jesus parables were designed to make one stabbing truth flash out at a man the moment he heard it’. These metaphor’s and simile’s are often drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness and strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.
Thoughts on interpreting the Parables First, to understand any parable properly we must have some sense of knowledge on the circumstances in which it was spoken. For the most part we have sufficient knowledge of the background; the parable must always be interpreted in light of its background. But, in balance, we must not let our assumptions on this background reconstruction dominate our interpretation unless the background is specifically in the text.
Second, the parable was spoken by Jesus to illustrate one aspect of truth, and to stress that one message (aspect of truth) which the need of the moment required. It would be quite impossible to find the whole of the Christian faith embodied in any one parable, yet with all the parables together, we can gain unmatched insight into the mind of the master teacher.
James Montgomery Boice once wrote, “this is what the parables do, perhaps more than any comparable portion of scripture. Other sections of the Bible give us a grand theology. Some move us to a grateful response to God. But the parables break through mere words and make us ask whether there has indeed been any real difference in our lives.”