“Dad, what is a parable anyhow?” the young fellow asked.
His father, who had fortunately read something about this just recently, answered him on this wise.
“Well, kid, let me tell you.”
“Well, dad, tell me. That’s why I asked.”
“The word parable comes from two Greek words, which together mean to ‘cast or throw alongside.’ That help any?”
The young fellow, who was old enough to know that his father was in one of his moods, said no, why would it? Any particular reason why it should?
So his father cleared his throat and continued. “When you want to shed light on one situation, you throw another situation alongside it to help the understanding along.”
“Oh. Like a metaphor.”
“Yes, like a metaphor with a little more meat on the bones. But the same principle. Metaphors are condensed parables. Parables are extended metaphors. This is that. Or this is like that. A metaphor is like a simile, making it a simile, if you say it the other way, making it a metaphor. You know.” His father trailed off.
“Is this kind of lesson the reason we gave up homeschooling?”
“Yes. No. Not exactly. But you have to hear me out . . .”
“Okay. Here am I.”
“Jesus told a particular kind of parable, but there are many examples of other ways of throwing something alongside something else to make a point.”
“Like what? Would Aesop’s fables be pagan parables?”
“Yes. There are no examples of that particular sort of parable in Scripture, but those fit the general description of what a parable is and does. You are putting one story alongside another in order to make a point.”
“So allegories are parables too?”
“Yep. Ask your mother. She’ll back me on this.”
“Right, but she always backs you. I think she thinks the Bible says she has to. So Jesus did not give us the only way to tell a parable?”
“Not at all, not at all.” Here the father took down a book from the shelf, and flipped it open casually. “Here, let me give you some examples. Balaam called a vision of his a parable (Num. 23:7). Job called his poetic complaint a parable (Job 27:1). The psalmist calls the lyrics of his songs a parable (Ps. 49:4; 78:2). A proverb is a parable (Prov. 26:7, 9; Hab. 2:6). An allegorical riddle is a parable (Ez. 17:2). And of course, stories of judgment leveled against Israel were parables (Matt. 13:3).”
“So the moralistic story that our babysitter used to tell us about what happened to those unfortunate children who played in the traffic once, but only once, was a parable?”
“Yes. A heavy-handed parable perhaps. Not great art, certainly. But a story from one realm that made a point in another fits the description of a parable. And as I remember, it was quite an effective parable. Really did the trick. You kids wouldn’t go near the sidewalk for years.”
“So this story that we’re in, is it a parable too?”
“Well, yes, after a fashion.”
“Does it have a point, a moral? More importantly, does it have a conclusion? I am getting a little bit hungry.”
“Yes, but it is not a point that can be readily derived from the contents of the parable. That has to be imported from outside context, like the one about the prodigal son being in exile like Israel.”
“So what is it?”
“Martin Luther once said that he would rather be governed by a wiseacre Turk than by a foolish Christian. Or something like that, I am pretty sure that’s the point . . . you can ask your mother about it at dinner.”