Parables . . . .
They Say What YOU Want Them To Say!
Crawford Loritts is an outstanding preacher and speaker. There is much to be learned from his ability to communicate biblical truth! I know that I will continue to go back to “the Loritts well” for examples of various rhetorical techniques.
Nevertheless, none of us are free from some of the mistakes which come from a common approach and weakness taught and exemplified by others. I would like to believe, and I do, that Bryan Loritts and others would correct course if they were challenged concerning the nature of biblical parables.
As I was listening to Loritts speak about the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) I was again disappointed at his approach, and I was also reminded of how pervasive this approach to parables is across the interpretative spectrum.
Crawford Loritts speaks as if the story actually happened. It was a historical event which Jesus knew about. That is also why the typical preacher-teacher on the parables adds the details which he does, even though they are not part of the parable and most of the time do not further the parable’s purpose.
Here is a part of a great message on the Prodigal Son, which is biblically accurate in what it teaches, but it handles the parable as if it is an actual real-life account of a prodigal son.
(clip from – Crawford Loritts – Redeeming Foolishness – @ 12:41 mark of the full original message)
Now at first glance, when you read a story, if you don’t know a little bit about the background story — you know – you said – what’s the big deal here
but in essence when this young man
— most scholars believe is probably seventeen or eighteen years old —
and the reason for that is that – you know – we don’t know for sure – —
– but the reason for that is
– that most young men at this age
– during this time
– got married between eighteen and twenty years old
– and he was the younger of the two
This young man probably about seventeen – maybe eighteen years old
he goes to his dad and demands – he’s the younger of the two – his inheritance
Well to demand your inheritance
– particularly — there’s nothing right about this
– particularly — if you were the younger boy
– during this culture —
was equivalent to saying to your dad, I wish you were dead — I wish you were dead
Take particular notice how Loritts makes a point about the age of the sons. Obviously, the age of the two sons is not mentioned AND is not of concern to Jesus. Jesus knows how to include their actual ages if He had a purpose in doing that. The fact that one is younger and one is older is a concern of Jesus. Therefore, he makes sure to build that detail into HIS STORY — because it is His story and it will accomplish His end!
(Audio clip which directly follows the above clip)
And so according to the customs of the time — his older brother got two-thirds of the inheritance – and he gets one-third of the inheritance
– and his father gives it to him.
What I love about this you don’t hear about any dialogue going along — the arguing and between the father and this boy
now this is a parable so we don’t know for sure what happened in the background so we’re just speculating
– it’s a story that Jesus told
– but maybe – maybe this wasn’t the first lap around Mt Sinai between that dad and that boy
they have probably had a lot of conversations before
– he had been obstinate and they had probably some arguments before in – this kind of thing
and so Pop — in a very wise way said – you know
You really want it.
You want it.
you’ve been headstrong your whole life – right.
You want it
OK – here it is.
Do you see how easy it is to bring in elements which are not part of the parable, which are speculative — and recognize that very fact. It is because it is seen as a story and not a parable.
All parables are stories, but not all stories are parables.
What is interesting about Loritts’ example is that he perfectly illustrates the nature of the missteps when it comes to preaching the parables of Scripture. The crux of the problem is that . . . .
◊ parables are seen and/or read as a story, taken from the likely experiences of the storyteller
◊ parables being seen as fabricated accounts which do not necessarily and/or presumptively have some actual connections to real life or living.
◊ parables are not efficaciously or productively connected to a real, historical, actual event. Constructing a parable from an actual and factual story limits one’s ability to include the needed details which accomplish the purposeful end.
Let me state that another way. Parables may indeed reflect some aspects of life and living, but they may not have been taken from the teller’s specific experiences of life.
Jesus may have never met a son who said and did what the Prodigal Son did and said!
[I know the pushback, He is God and therefore He “omnisciently knew” someone who did and said all that, somewhere and sometime in the history of Israel.]
The Lord’s parable involves a Prodigal Son who has to have no historical reality. In fact, it would be difficult to have known of a prodigal which fit all these details, and which did not have valuable inserted details which would accomplish the communicative goal of the parable.
Jesus purposefully painted a picture of a prodigal which included all these dynamics and details (in no particular order). . . . .
- He had another brother
- and had a forgiving father
- and who asked for his inheritance
- and who ended up in a pig pen
- and wasted ALL his money
- and who had a father who gave him his that inheritance
- and whose brother was bitter
- and whose father gave a ring, and a robe, sandals
- and who had a party thrown for him on his return
- and who no one would help
- and who ended up taking a job as a Jew in a Gentile pig pen
- and who came to his senses in the pig pen
- and who said to himself, “How many of my father’s . . . “
- and who faced a severe famine in the land
- and who devised his arrival speech
- and who was tempted to eat the pig slop because he was so hungry
- and was seen afar off
- and came home and was reinstated as a son
- and who said, “Father, I have sinned . . . . “
- and whose dad said, “My son who was lost is found”
- and whose brother heard the music
- and whose brother was pleaded with by the father
- and whose father ran towards his returning son
- and whose father fell on his neck and kissed him upon return
- and . . . .
Again, let me proceed with the point – which is also being made by the extensiveness of the details listed above.
Jesus may have never met or known of a son who said and did what the Prodigal Son did and said!
Jesus may have never known of a wayward son, who also had a brother who was self-righteous.
Jesus may have never known of a younger wayward son who had an older self-righteous brother.
Jesus may have never known of a father who ran toward his younger wayward son.
Jesus may never have known of a situation that included all the various details cited above and/or in one singular situation.
Jesus may have known a similar, a very close, or an exact match.
It does not matter – because the value of the parable is that the teller gets to construct and design a parable in such a way that it contains all the details that the storyteller wants it to include. The “construction engineer” is able to include all the selected timber he wants to be included so that it is able to drive home (perfectly in the case of Jesus) the point which is being made — and which is being made BECAUSE of the included parts which were incorporated into his parable.
It has been fabricated
It has been constructed!
It has been “LEGOED.”
It was designed in all of its elements to make the purposeful point.
Parables rely on fabrication for their effectiveness and purposeful application. They are not by default . . . .
- an actual
- a historical
- a known
- a seen with one’s own eyes
- a heard about from another
- earthly accounts of something which took place in time and space!
They are fabricated stories!
They are not by default a historical account, a real-life example which definitively included each and every element laid out in the parable.
I imagine that any particular parable could and might be based on a story which actually took place in time and space, in history — but I rather doubt it and it is not relevant to the exposition. In fact, to take the position that it is, is counter-productive to a proper exposition because it leads to even greater freedom to go beyond the parable’s details.
The exposition should be seen as purposefully fabricated by the teller. And therefore, it should be littered with such phrases as . . . .
Notice how Jesus includes a second son. He puts that into his parable because He has a second point He wants to make about . . . .
In designing His parable, Jesus has the younger son asking for his inheritance.
By constructing the parable with a famine which is severe, it places the prodigal in his story at the mercy of others and . . . .
Whether all the . . . .
- actions and/or activity
- steps or progression
. . . . may find some actual and/or real counterpart in a historical person, place, or event or which has actually happened in life ??? . . . . which includes all the delineated details ???? is not the value of the parable.
That is not the aim, design, usefulness, or purpose of a parable.
The parable is a parable — a story which was constructed in the times of Jesus, just like we construct them today.
i.e., Imagine a man going to a bank to deposit some money, and as he arrives, he realizes that he has forgotten to bring his checkbook. He decides to use a generic form to make the deposit of weekly paycheck and fills out the form with all the information but his checking account number. He will ask the bank teller to look that up for him when he is at the teller window.
A parable is fictitious because a fabricated and fictitious story can be and is designed to fulfill a specific intended goal by the inclusion, exclusion, and bending of the parts and pieces.
That is not to say that there are not elements of a parable which the listeners might well be able to identify with because of their culture and experience.
They are comfortable with a family which only had two sons.
They understand rebellion.
Pig farms existed.
Leaven – sowing seed – barns – lamps – virgins – lost sheep/coins – mugged while traveling, vineyard workers, persistent widows, stewards, responsible investors, etc.
. . . . were all known and understood parts of their life and living experiences. They knew about all those everyday, real-life, cultural references.
They were not familiar with a mustard seed which grows into a tree.
They might not know of a merchant who sold everything for one pearl.
They might not know of someone who found a buried treasure in a field, hid it back in that field, and then sold everything to buy that field.
The know of enemies, but probably did not know of someone who sowed another’s field with tares.
PERHAPS, BUT NOT:
They knew about being mugged, but probably not about a Samaritan helping out a Jew, no less paying for his recovery — but that is the point of the parable. That is what you can do when it is your story, historical, probable, real or shocking, or not!
They knew about being working in a vineyard, but probably not about being hired for one hour, or for that matter after the noon hour — and probably did not know about being paid in reverse, the way the vineyard workers were paid — but that is the point of the parable. That is what you can do when it is your story, historical, probable, real or shocking, or not!
They knew about being widows being treated unjustly, but probably not judges who were threatened and gave in to her demands out of fear of that widow — but that is the point of the parable. That is what you can do when it is your story, historical, probable, real or shocking, or not!
They might not know of a father who would run and welcome home a son who wasted the Father’s goodness — but that is the point – that is the contrast! That is what you can do when it is your story!