A sermon preached on Wednesday 21 July by Graham Low.
The passage we have just heard marks a fundamental shift in Matthew’s gospel. In the early part of his ministry Jesus taught in synagogues. Now Matthew tells us that he is teaching on the sea shore. Now the door of the synagogues is closing. He is welcomed in synagogues by ordinary people, but the leaders are now openly against him, weighing up and sifting his every word: accusation and condemnation are in the air. It is a profound tragedy that the inside of the synagogues is closing to him, and the open air is now his environment.
In todays passage we begin to see the full development of his way of teaching. In parables Jesus becomes a supreme master of the short story. Why does he use this method?
Firstly, parables make truth concrete. We prefer pictures to abstraction. To try and describe beauty or goodness in abstract is tricky, but examples of them give an immediate message: she is a beautiful woman and he is a good person.
Secondly, it is said that great teaching begins from the here and now in order to get to the there and then. Starting with understandable examples we can be led to things which we have previously failed to see or grasp. We go from where we are to where we are being asked to be.
Thirdly, parables immediately spark interest. Everyone can enjoy and respond to a good story, told by a good storyteller. A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.
Fourthly, a parable enables us to discover and re-discover truths for ourselves. Jesus does not tell a truth: rather he enables us to discover it for ourselves. That process of discovery takes us nearer to the mind of God.
A fifth point is that a parable conceals truth from those who are too lazy to think or who are blinded by their own prejudices. The responsibility is on us to think the parable through so that its truth is revealed to us. If we do not wish to see its’ truth then we remain ignorant.
Finally, parables are spoken not read, for immediate impact, rather than thought over for a long time.
So how should we approach parables? It is certainly helpful to gain as much information as we can about how life was in Palestine in Jesus’ time. In that way a parable can more easily strike us as it did Jesus’ hearers. We need to imagine how it was for the lives and the minds of Palestinian people when it was first heard.
It is also important for us to recognise that a parable will only have one point. It is not an allegory. An allegory is a story, each of whose details will have an inner meaning: it has to be read and studied, while a parable is to be heard.
So a parable is a story which relies upon making one immediate, and lasting point for us.
Jesus said, let anyone with ears listen! In a short time of quiet may we be granted the grace to listen to what Jesus has just taught us as the sower went out to sow.