Jesus As Story Teller: Literary Perspectives On The Parables -- By: Simon J. Kistemaker
TMSJ 16:1 (Spring 2005) p. 49
Jesus As Story Teller: Literary Perspectives On The Parables
Several literary features of Jesus’ parables are noteworthy. In some respects Matthew’s recorded parables differ from Luke’s in presenting colorless sketches. Luke’s parables, on the other hand, are vivid and full of color. Parables in both Gospels, however, are characterized by contrasts. All the parables demonstrate artistry in their unity, coherence, balance, contrast, recurrence, and symmetry. Jesus’ repetition of similar parables on separate occasions illustrates His goal of giving emphasis by way of repetition. By using open-ended parables, Jesus drew His listeners into real-life situations and presented them with the need for a decision on their parts. Allegory in Jesus’ parables brought people into familiar surroundings and highlighted the mercy of God toward sinners. All in all, the parables of Jesus were in a category all their own and were quite distinct from other parabolic teachings in their timelessness and universality.
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Many have appreciated Jesus’ parables, but all too often specific literary techniques of those parables have gone unnoticed. Attention to those techniques helps to explain why these masterpieces are unparalleled down through the ages in their impact on the world of humanity.
The parables of Jesus appear only in the three Synoptic Gospels, not in the Gospel of John. The Gospel of Mark features merely six parables and of these six only one is peculiar to Mark, namely, the parable of the seed growing secretly (Mark 4:26–29). While Matthew presents ten parables that are peculiar to him, Luke has a total of sixteen. From the storehouse of Jesus’ parables, Matthew has selected those that he presents in black and white sketches. For instance, the pearl merchant is an ordinary person who fails to come to life. By contrast, the parables Luke has selected sparkle in their crispness, are vivid in the portrayal of life, and are colorful in design. In these parables the people talk, as in the case of the rich man who,
TMSJ 16:1 (Spring 2005) p. 50
reaping a bumper crop, built bigger and better barns (Luke 12). Even in the parable of the lost sheep recorded by both Matthew and Luke, this difference is obvious. Upon finding the lost sheep, the shepherd, filled with joy, returns home and calls together his friends and neighbors and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep” (Luke 15:6). Matthew merely records that the man is happy (
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