When I began planning the Right Now series on the Kingdom of God, I did what I always do…I took a shopping trip to my favorite store, Amazon.com. When I searched the Amazon site for available resources regarding the Kingdom of God I discovered good news and bad news.
The bad news first. I was appalled at the limited number of resources that were available on the subject at hand. Could it be possible that the core teaching of Jesus had been thoroughly neglected? “Maybe it was just Amazon.com,” I mused, and then quickly made my way to ChristianBookDistributors.com. “Blast! Same result!” I still shake my head in disbelief at the idea that nothing substantial was being published on this important subject.
Now the good news. During my quest I came across a wonderful reference work on the parables of Jesus titled Stories with Intent by Klyne R. Snodgrass. Snodgrass serves as the Paul W. Brandel Professor of New Testament Studies at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. Stories with Intent is a comprehensive resource for serious Bible students who desire to learn about parables and how they functioned in the first century. Beside the biblical background support, Snodgrass provides hermeneutical assistance to help interpret the parables and arrive at an appropriate application for today.
In the introductory material to the book, Snodgrass spent three pages offering a definition of the word parable. Check this out. He writes, “Hardly anything said about parables–whether defining them or explaining their characteristics–is true of all of them. For this reason every parable must be approached in its own right and not assumed to look like or function like other parables. A parable is often defined as an illustration due to the root fallacy of deriving the meaning from paraballo, which means literally ‘to throw alongside.’ From this people have viewed parables as earthly stories with heavenly meanings. Although there is some truth in this saying, this approach to understaning NT parables will not do. Parables are much more than illustrations, and although some are concerned with future eschatology, they are not about heaven. They are about life on earth.”
Snodgrass continues by interacting with several classical definitions of parables by New Testament scholars. He then offers this: “If meaning is the value assigned to a set of relations, parables provide new sets of relations that enable us to see in a fresh manner. Parables function as a lens that allow us to see the truth and to correct distorted vision. They allow us to see what we would not otherwise see, and they presume we should look at and see a specific reality…they are stories with an intent, analogies through which one is enabled to see truth.”
He concludes by making the case that the purpose of parables is to “awaken insight, stimulate the conscience, and move us to action.” In other words, Jesus taught in parables to cause us to think for ourselves and to respond with action. While the parables often call for specific moral action, they are more importantly calls issued to disciples to radically reorient their lives as participants in the Kingdom of God.