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Gospel parables, an Orthodox commentaryBy Father Victor Potapov, Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Washington DC
Since the time of the primitive Christian Church, parable has been the term for a story told by the Lord Jesus Christ to illustrate His teaching. The Greek root-word, parabole, means comparison. So a parable is a spiritual lesson of a story developed by comparison to everyday life. The Lord's parables draw memorable details from nature, human, social, economic, or religious life of His time. Characteristically, all oral teachers of the eastern cast of mind teach by comparisons and riddles, using homely images to stir curiosity and reflection. So His parables use images from life in this world to discover spiritual truth.
The Savior also told sacred insights in parables for three practical reasons.
- First, His parables were hard for many listeners to grasp, but His listeners could recall the vivid details from ordinary life long enough to discover the wisdom behind the allegory.
- Second, the Lord Jesus Christ told parables to make men expect a double meaning, and to make them want to discover the fullness of the divine plan for their conversion. Because the Church and Kingdom that our Lord founded differ so sharply from the Jewish expectation of the Messiah at that time, that the Lord's teaching had to be cautious and indirect. His parables use allegory to compare the recognizable world to the start, development, mixed character, and final triumph of Church and Kingdom. What may seem simple to us, of course, was a intriguing riddle to His contemporaries.
- And third, the Lord used the parable format because His followers could not readily forget or misinterpret the commonplace images. The parable format preserves the purity of Christ's teaching in distinct but evocative images.