Definition of Parable:

A parable is a concise, simple, and allegorical story that imparts a moral or spiritual lesson or truth. It is a form of narrative used to convey complex ideas or ethical principles in a relatable and accessible manner.

Origin of Parable

The term “parable” has its origins in the Greek word “parabole,” which means “comparison” or “analogy.”

Characteristics of Parable

1. Simple Narratives

Parables typically present uncomplicated and everyday scenarios that are easy to comprehend.

2. Moral or Spiritual Lesson

The primary purpose of a parable is to convey a moral, ethical, or spiritual lesson or truth.

3. Universal Relevance

Parable often carries universal themes that resonate with people across cultures and time periods.

4. Symbolism

Parable uses symbols, characters, and situations to represent deeper meanings or abstract concepts.

5. Open to Interpretation

Parable often opens to multiple interpretations, allowing readers or listeners to engage with the story on various levels.

6. Subtext in Parable

The importance of subtext in parables lies in its ability to add depth, complexity, and layers of meaning to the narrative. Subtext refers to the underlying or implicit message, emotions, or themes that are subtly conveyed beneath the surface of the story. In parables, subtext enhances the impact and effectiveness of the moral or spiritual lesson being conveyed. Here are some key reasons why subtext is crucial in parables:

(A) Engagement and Interpretation

Subtext invites readers or listeners to actively engage with the parable and interpret the story beyond its literal meaning. This active participation encourages critical thinking and reflection, fostering a deeper understanding of the lesson being taught.

(B) Nuanced and Multilayered Message

Subtext allows parables to carry multiple meanings and interpretations, making them relevant to various situations and contexts. It enables the parable to speak to different individuals or communities, addressing their unique experiences and perspectives.

(C) Emotional Impact

By exploring the emotions and motivations of the characters through subtext, parables become more emotionally resonant and relatable. This emotional connection helps the audience empathize with the characters and better internalize the lesson being conveyed.

(D) Cultural Relevance

Subtext enables parables to transcend cultural and temporal boundaries. While the surface story may be specific to a particular time or culture, the underlying subtext makes the moral or spiritual lesson universally applicable and timeless.

(E) Symbolism and Allegory

Subtext often relies on symbolism and allegory, which are powerful literary devices that allow abstract concepts to be represented through concrete images or characters. This makes the lesson more accessible and vivid for the audience.

Famous Parables in British Literature

1. The Parable of the Prodigal Son

This parable appears in the New Testament of the Bible (Luke 15:11-32) and tells the story of a son who squanders his inheritance and later returns to his father, who welcomes him back with open arms. It conveys the themes of forgiveness, redemption, and unconditional love.

2. The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Also from the New Testament (Luke 10:25-37), this parable portrays a Samaritan helping a wounded man, highlighting the virtue of compassion and selflessness.

Famous Parables in General

1. The Parable of the Sower

From the New Testament (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15), this parable discusses the different reactions people have when hearing the Word of God, symbolized by seeds sown in different types of soil.

The Parable of the Sower is one of the most well-known and significant parables of Jesus Christ, found in the New Testament of the Bible, specifically in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In this parable, Jesus uses agricultural imagery to teach profound spiritual truths about the receptivity of different hearts to God’s Word and the challenges in nurturing faith.

Biblical Account

A sower went out to sow his seed, and as he scattered the seeds, some fell along the path and were trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured them. Some fell on rocky ground, and when they sprouted, they withered away due to lack of moisture. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. However, some seeds fell on good soil, grew, and produced a bountiful harvest, a hundredfold.

Interpretation and Subtext

The Parable of the Sower emphasizes the importance of hearing and understanding God’s Word and the varying responses it receives among different individuals or hearts:

  1. The Pathway: The seeds that fell along the path represent those who hear the Word, but because their hearts are hardened like a well-trodden path, Satan (symbolized by the birds) quickly snatches away the message before it can take root. This signifies a lack of openness and receptivity to spiritual truths.
  2. The Rocky Ground: The seeds that fell on rocky ground symbolizes those who initially receive the Word with joy and enthusiasm, but their faith is shallow. When faced with trials or persecution, their faith quickly withers away because it lacks depth and root.
  3. The Thorny Ground: The seeds among thorns represent individuals who hear the Word but allow worldly cares, riches, and desires to choke the message. Their hearts become divided, and the Word cannot bear fruit because of competing priorities.
  4. The Good Soil: The seeds that fall on good soil signify those with open and receptive hearts, willing to understand and internalize God’s Word. These individuals genuinely embrace the message, allowing it to take root and produce a bountiful harvest of faith and righteousness.

2. The Parable of the Tenants

The Parable of the Tenants, also known as the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, is a significant and thought-provoking parable spoken by Jesus Christ. It is found in the New Testament of the Bible, appearing in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The parable is a powerful allegory that conveys profound spiritual truths and has deep implications for understanding God’s relationship with humanity and the consequences of rejecting His messengers.

Biblical Account

(Matthew 21:33-46)

The parable begins with a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress, and built a watchtower. He then leased the vineyard to tenants while he went away on a journey. When the time for harvest came, the landowner sent his servants to the tenants to collect his share of the produce.

However, the tenants treated the servants cruelly, beating some, killing others, and stoning some. The landowner then sent more servants, but they met with the same fate. Finally, he decided to send his son, thinking that the tenants would respect him.

Instead, the wicked tenants saw the son as their chance to inherit the vineyard for themselves. So, when the son arrived, they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

Jesus then asked the listeners what the landowner would do to those wicked tenants. The people responded that he would put them to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to other tenants who would give him his share of the produce in its due season.

Jesus then declared that the rejected stone had become the cornerstone and that anyone who falls on it will be broken, but those on whom it falls will be crushed.

Interpretation and Subtext

The Parable of the Tenants has a profound allegorical meaning:

  • The Landowner: God is represented by the landowner, who is the rightful owner and creator of the vineyard, symbolizing the world and its resources.
  • The Vineyard: The vineyard signifies the world that God has entrusted to humanity, along with its blessings and responsibilities.
  • The Tenants: The tenants represent the religious leaders and authorities of Israel who were entrusted with the care and guidance of God’s people.
  • The Servants: The servants symbolize the prophets and messengers whom God sent to the people of Israel to call them to righteousness and faithfulness.
  • The Son: The son represents Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate and beloved messenger and the cornerstone of faith.
  • The Murder of the Son: The murder of the son foreshadows Jesus’ crucifixion, showing how the religious leaders rejected and killed God’s ultimate messenger.
  • The New Tenants: The new tenants refer to the Gentiles and those who would come to believe in Jesus Christ as the new spiritual leaders of God’s people.

Why did Jesus speak in Parables?

In the medieval era, interpreters of the Bible often treated Jesus’ parables as allegories, seeking symbolic correspondences for every element in the parables. However, modern scholars, starting with Adolf Jülicher, have challenged these interpretations, considering them incorrect. Jülicher proposed that some of Jesus’ parables are best understood as similitudes, which are extended similes or metaphors.

Jesus spoke in parables for several reasons. Some of them are as follows;

1. Accessible Teaching

Parables use relatable and everyday situations, making complex spiritual truths accessible to a wide audience. The use of common imagery and scenarios allowed people from various backgrounds and walks of life to understand and engage with Jesus’ teachings.

2. Memorable and Impact

Parables are memorable and leave a lasting impact on the listeners. The use of vivid imagery and storytelling techniques helped people remember the messages conveyed by Jesus, allowing the teachings to resonate with them long after hearing the parables.

3. Engaging and Though-Provoking

Parables engage the audience actively. They often require listeners to think and interpret the meaning behind the stories, encouraging critical reflection and deepening their understanding of the spiritual lessons.

4. Revealing Spiritual Truths

Through parables, Jesus could reveal profound spiritual truths and deeper insights about the Kingdom of God. He used everyday situations to illustrate heavenly realities, making abstract concepts more tangible and relatable.

5. Challenging and Thoughtful

Parables sparked thoughtful discussions and debates among the listeners, leading them to ponder the implications of the teachings and how they applied to their lives. This interactive approach encouraged active learning and engagement with the message.

6. Cautious Approach

Speaking in parables also served as a cautious approach in times when Jesus faced opposition from religious leaders and authorities. By using indirect language, He could convey important truths without drawing unnecessary attention or risking immediate persecution.

7. Inclusive and Non-Threatening

Parables were non-threatening and inclusive in nature. Instead of directly condemning or criticizing individuals, Jesus used parables to encourage self-examination and personal reflection, giving people the opportunity to respond willingly rather than feeling defensive.

8. Fulfilling Prophecy

The use of parables was also in fulfillment of prophecy. In Psalm 78:2, it is said, “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter hidden things, things from of old.”

Famous Parables of Jesus

Jesus used numerous parables throughout His ministry to teach profound spiritual truths to His disciples and the crowds. Here are some of the well-known parables of Jesus:

1. The Parable of the Sower

As discussed earlier, this parable illustrates the different responses of people to God’s Word and the importance of cultivating a receptive heart to bear spiritual fruit.

2. The Parable of the Good Samaritan

This parable teaches about compassion and loving one’s neighbor, regardless of social, ethnic, or religious differences.

3. The Parable of the Lost Sheep

In this parable, Jesus illustrates God’s relentless pursuit of each individual, representing the lost sheep, and His joy when the lost one is found.

4. The parable of the Ten Virgins

This parable emphasizes the need for readiness and preparedness for the return of the bridegroom (Jesus), as illustrated by the ten virgins with their lamps.

5. The Parable of the Wedding Feast

In this parable, Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding feast, illustrating the invitation to all people and the importance of accepting God’s gracious offer.

6. The Parable of the Talents

This parable speaks about stewardship and accountability, where servants are entrusted with different amounts of money (talents) and are expected to use them wisely.

Note: It is a different parable than that of the tenants

7. The Parable of the Vine and the Branches

Found in John 15, this parable depicts the intimate relationship between believers and Jesus as the vine, emphasizing the importance of abiding in Him to bear spiritual fruit.

Parables of The Quran

In the Quran, parables, known as “mathal” in Arabic, are an essential literary device used to convey profound spiritual and moral truths to believers. Just like in the Bible, parables in the Quran use everyday scenarios and vivid imagery to communicate important lessons and guide individuals toward righteous behavior and understanding of God’s attributes.

Characteristics of the Parables of The Quran
1. Universal and Timeless

The parables in the Quran are timeless and applicable to all generations and cultures. They carry universal themes and truths that resonate with believers across different contexts.

2. Accessible Language

The Quran uses simple and clear language in its parables, making them accessible to a wide audience and facilitating easy comprehension.

3. Spiritual Reflection

Parables in the Quran encourage deep spiritual reflection, inviting believers to ponder over the meanings and draw moral lessons from the stories.

4. Call to Action

Many parables in the Quran serve as a call to action, urging believers to follow the path of righteousness, compassion, and justice.

Example of Parables in The Quran
1. The Parable of the Bee (An-Nahl, 68-69)

Allah uses the example of the bee and its diligent work to produce honey as a sign of His wisdom and creativity.

2. The Parable of the Spider (Al-Ankabut, 41)

The frailty of the spider’s web is likened to false gods and worldly attachments that can easily deceive believers.

3. The Parable of the Seed (Al-Baqarah, 261-262)

The multiplication of good deeds is compared to the growth of a single grain of corn that yields seven ears, each with a hundred grains.

4. The Parable of the Dog (Al’ Araf, 176)

The heedless people who disregard God’s signs are similar to dogs that only know how to bark at those they perceive as threats.