Matthew 13 introduces us to Jesus’ first use of parables as narrative teaching.
The word “parable” is a transliterative form of the Greek paraballo, a compound word joining para(beside) with ballo(to throw). You may recall learning about the Spanish bola, a rope with weighted balls at the end which was thrown at the legs of animals to tangle its legs together.
In like fashion, a parable is a fictional narrative “thrown” with the intent of joining a spiritual meaning in the mind of the hearer. A parable utilizes well known truths, objects, or everyday events in order to help the hearer understand a deeper spiritual truth. We might also refer to parables as word pictures, remembering that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Sometimes a parable is referred to as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.
One problem folks often have regarding parables is to take them too literally or attempt to force some teaching not intended by the parable. The first parable in today’s text, the parable of the sower, might be used as example. A mistake that one could make with this parable would be to assume that, because three of the four soils received the seed in some way, three in four people will also receive the word of God. Additionally, it would be fallacious to assume that of those three, two would not bring fruit to maturity and the glory of God.
So, rather than being a description of the soil type ratio, the parable of the sower is simply a description of the four basic soil types. And, using this parable to teach that two-thirds of all Christians will fail is equally wrong. (By the way, I have been guilty of a similar false or forced interpretation using the parable of the talents, but enough of that for now!)
The other primary parable in this chapter has also been the subject of false speculation. Long story short here, don’t equate the field/kingdom in verse 41 with the church, as such contradicts Jesus’ own explanation that the field is the world (v 38).
In closing, as you read the parables, focus on the simplest and most easily understood explanations, especially when the Lord explains Himself!