Whatever mistakes we make in reading and preaching the parables, let us not make the mistake of not making much of Jesus. He is the sower of the good seed of the gospel, the heaven-sent Son, the bridegroom of his church, the king upon his glorious throne, the final judge of all people everywhere, and so much more!
Suggestions for Preaching Parables
Every parable has a connection to the gospel. So, when you preach, don’t moralize (e.g., the point of the parable of the talents is that God rewards hard work; so, work hard!).1 Moreover, because the parables describe various parts of the gospel of the kingdom—the rule of Christ inaugurated in the incarnation and consummated in the second coming—set your sermons within the context of the whole gospel story (death and resurrection of Christ) and response (repentance, faith, and obedience). The parables feature what the whole of the New Testament covers: gospel need, gospel proclamation, gospel response, and gospel ethics. In your preaching, follow Jesus’s pattern.
Below are eight suggestions to help your homiletics soar. Or, at least get off the ground.
First, share what is truly important. If you are clearly given the main point of a parable in the text, or you have painstakingly discerned it in your study, share it with God’s people from the start and throughout. For example, Luke tells us in Luke 18:1 that Jesus taught the parable of the persistent widow “to the effect that they [his disciples] ought always to pray and not lose heart.” You need to unpack the symbolic relationship between the unrighteous judge and God and the widow and God’s elect, but not at the expense of sharing the point of those two characters’ actions. The sermon should be dominated by what is truly important, not by all the possible interpretations or twenty minutes of unraveling the symbolic details.
Second, take time to explain. You need to get to the point (see above), but not at the expense of making sure that all the important details in the parable are explicated. In most settings, we are up against two obstacles: (1) people who don’t use or hear parables on a regular basis, or at all, and (2) most biblical parables are “notoriously puzzling” and their “meaning is rarely transparent.”2 Be patient. Explain slowly and clearly. Illustrate.
Third, contemporize. One way to explain and illustrate is to retell a parable, or part of a parable, as a paraphrase and/or with a relevant and accessible story from today. As Blomberg advocates, “it will be both easy and helpful to include some modern equivalent to the biblical story in an introduction, in one or more illustrations interspersed within the body, or in a conclusion to the message. These contemporizations should work to recreate the original dynamic, force, or effect of Jesus’ original story. It is not true that narratives cannot (or should not) be paraphrased propositionally; it is true that good exposition should not do just that.”3