For such short and simple stories, Jesus’ parables can be surprisingly difficult to understand. Take the famous parable of the mustard seed. Is the kingdom of heaven the seed? Or the tree that grows from the seed? Does this parable have a different meaning when viewed through the lens of ancient Jewish society and culture?
These questions have long fascinated Sunday school teachers and theologians alike, and in this devotional at Slice of Infinity, Jill Carattini explores the compelling but elusive significance of Jesus’ parables:
Though the theological and methodological approaches to [the parable of the mustard seed] may be varied, perhaps in varying degrees each contends a similar truth: The kingdom of God holds much to be discovered, discussed, and held in wonder. [...]
In each of these approaches to Jesus’s unlikely comparison, we find truths and wonders worth gleaning as if from a great and fruitful tree. The parable of the mustard seed depicts the inconspicuous ministry of Jesus and the sometimes hidden signs of his significance as holding a potential far beyond metaphor or imagination, culture or history. The kingdom of God is not in the future only, nor is it only at hand in a history we cannot reach; it is here even now, reaching out with branches that bid all to come and dwell. As with all of Jesus’s stories, which “leap out of their historical situation and confront us as if they had not yet spoken their final word,” this parable of the kingdom will continue to surprise us if we will continue to inquire.
Jesus’ parables challenge us to actively participate—they are simple stories with clear messages, but they nevertheless almost require the reader to respond to them with thoughtful questions about their meaning.
Is there a particular parable that you find most intriguing? What questions did it prompt you to ask, and what did you learn from it as a result?