Why Did Jesus Tell Stories That People Couldn’t Understand?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand … But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.

Matthew 13:13

All week at The High Calling, we are talking about storytelling in the workplace—as an act of evangelism and an expression of truth.

We have always valued stories as a way to help people understand how to integrate faith and work. This is why so many authors share specific, often personal, examples.

We tell stories, short histories of people living out their faith in daily life.

Jesus told parables, a kind of story that is metaphorical rather than historical. They can be a bit confusing too. His disciples called him out on this point when he told the parable of the sower. In Matthew’s account, they come at Jesus with something almost like a spirit of judgment, as if to say, “Why do you tell these confusing parables?”

Jesus responds graciously, reminding them to be grateful for the gift of understanding that has been given to them. But he holds his ground: A good story doesn’t mean that everyone will understand.

This is hard.

In his commentaries, N. T. Wright wonders, “Doesn’t Jesus want everybody to get the message? Yes and no. What he is saying is such dynamite that it can’t be said straightforwardly, out in the street.” It is not that Jesus speaks in parables because he doesn’t want people to understand. He speaks in parables because they refuse to understand. Through parables, Jesus can communicate with the people who are ready to listen, and no one else will understand enough to cause immediate trouble.

Thankfully, Jesus admits that this is not the best situation. “Blessed are your ears,” he tells the disciples. Be grateful because you can understand the parables. Be grateful because your hearts aren’t too hard to hear unexpected truths.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you prefer history or parable, fact or fantasy? When you share your faith, do you tend to share history or analogy? How do you feel about Jesus’ idea that a good story will not be understood by everyone?

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to listen to you and to the needs of the world around me. It is so easy to get caught up in the desire to express only myself, my story, and my thoughts. Sometimes, forgive me, I forget to listen.

I’m struck by how patient Jesus is when he tells his parables. He knows many people will not understand what he is saying, and he is okay with that. Let me be like Jesus. Let me be willing for others not to understand what I am saying. Let me be patient with them and with your timetable for them.

Too often, I turn conversations into debates. Let me not speak in order to win debates, but to share stories that glorify you. Let me not listen in order to plan my response, but in order to find your glory in the stories of others. In the name of Jesus, I ask for your help. Amen.


The Power of Storytelling

A note from our managing editor: When my children were young, telling stories at bedtime was always one the best parts of our day. I usually read stories straight from a book. But, my husband made up stories to tell the children and those stories continue to show up in conversations, even now that our children are adults. Stories are powerful and we may tend to forget that as we grow up and move on into board rooms and classrooms and carpool lanes.

What can a story provide in a board meeting that facts and figures alone can't accomplish? How has storytelling improved relationships among coworkers, especially coworkers whose faith is different from mine? What are some of the best stories ever told in the workplace and why did it make a difference? Why is it important to be able to tell a good story and what is a good story anyway? In this series at The High Calling, we take a look at The Power of Storytelling in the workplace. Pull up a chair and join us in the conversation.

Featured image by Omissam Oruamid. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.