After studying this section you should:
- know what the Kingdom of God means to Christians
- understand why Jesus told parables
- know the sequence of events in the parables told by Jesus
- be able to explain what the parables meant to Christians then and what they mean now
The Kingdom of God can be heaven or eternal life with God. The Kingdom of God can also be realised on earth when all things come under God’s rule; all people live according to Jesus’ teaching. The Kingdom of God may be realised when Jesus comes again to judge all people (Second Coming).
What is a Parable?
- A parable is usually a simple story with a clear and simple meaning.
- Jesus used the medium of parables because storytelling was part of the Palestinian culture.
- He utilises the imagery of farming and shepherding because those are the contexts that were familiar to his listeners.
- Sometimes the parables are quick and simple messages and at other times they are turned into allegories, each part representing something different.
A growing seed (Mark 4:26–29)
A seed is planted and grows in good, fertile soil when the farmer sleeps.
- When it is fully developed the farmer harvests it.
- So too the Kingdom of God grows silently, waiting for the harvest.
A mustard seed (Mark 4:30–34).
- The mustard seed is the smallest of seeds, which grows into a huge plant with large branches to shelter birds.
- So the Kingdom of God grows and is a haven, a resting place for all who wish to shelter in it.
The new way. Through the teachings in the parables, Jesus emphasises the fact that his way is a new way.
The patches and the wineskins (Mark 2:18–22).
- This is one of the parables Jesus told that challenged the Pharisees.
- He tells them no one would use new cloth to patch an old coat as the new cloth would tear the old; and no one would put new wine into old skins as the skins would swell and burst.
- New wine must be poured into fresh skins.
- Jesus is clearly telling the Pharisees that his way is completely new. It is not an adaptation of old ways but a fresh and radical way of living.
Allegories in Mark
The parable of the sower (Mark 4:3–9; 13–20)
- In this parable Jesus likens the farmer sowing his seeds to someone sowing God’s message.
- The seeds represent the Word of God.
- Seeds that fall on the path represent words that fall on willing ears but are quickly forgotten because of temptation, snatched away by Satan, just as seeds on the path are snatched away by birds.
- Seeds that fall on rocky ground take root and grow but die quickly. As the soil dries the roots die; and so sometimes the Word is rooted weakly and is lost in times of trouble and persecution.
- Seeds that fall among the weeds and thorns grow well until they are choked by other growth, just as the Word is choked by those who become worried about riches and things of the world.
- Seeds that fall on fertile soil grow and multiply to produce a rich harvest, just as words are heard by accepting people and the message is accepted and it multiplies.
Jesus is explaining the message to make clear that everyone should listen to the Word of God and allow nothing to detract from it, in order that the Kingdom can grow and flourish in each person.
The parable of the tenants in the vineyard (Mark 12:1–12)
Candidates need to be totally familiar with this parable and especially with its meaning.
This parable is to be found in Chapter 12, whereas the others are in the early part of the Gospel. It is quite different in meaning and speaks of Jesus’ purpose on earth. It has been turned into an allegory, with each part representing something about the life of Jesus.
- A man plants a vineyard and leaves it in the hands of tenants.
- When he sends servants to collect the profits they are beaten, so he finally sends his son. The tenants decide to kill the son, believing that the vineyard will then be theirs.
- The owner returns, throws out the tenants and hands the vineyard to others.
- Jesus concludes that the stone the builders rejected was the most important stone. Once again the reader is told that the Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus because he told this parable against them.
In this parable:
- the vineyard represents Israel
- the tenants represent the Jews
- the servants represent the prophets
- the Son represents Jesus
- the owner represents God
The teaching of Jesus through the parables was controversial and challenging; uncompromising in its rejection of the way of the Pharisees. Jesus knew that he was making enemies but he did not flinch from his dangerous path and radical message.
The messages of the parables can be used to demonstrate Christian inspiration working for the true meaning in the Gospels. Jesus was more concerned about people and their understanding of the Kingdom and he came with a simple, clear message.