Rhetoric & Homiletics: Preaching The Parables — No. . . No . . . Don’t Do That!

Jesus-Parables While listening to a Sunday morning television sermon this week, I heard it done again!  A few years ago, I wrote and published [1] a magazine article on preaching the parables.  One of the primary points being made spoke to the very nature of a parable.  It is a fabricated story!  It never happened.

While a parable may include events and details that were known and understood to the listeners, and/or there may have been an actual, historical, time-and-space event similar (or even identical in the specifics), it was created — purposefully designed. In fact, the details and/or events can even be out of the realm of possibility (a mustard seed growing into a tree).

It is a story that has been “legoed together” to make a point by its particular design.  That is the decided advantage of creating a parable.  You can have it say what you want it to say.  You can include or exclude what you want in order to make it say exactly what you want it to say.

The preacher was preaching on the parable of the prodigal son . . . .

And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.

and then said this . . . . [2]

That request must have come as a knife in the father’s heart . . . . “

No . . . No . . . . Don’t do that!

The parable never took place . . . . not that  — no sons ever left home, wanted their inheritance before leaving, sowed their wild oats, felt restricted as to what they could and wanted to do, or had a single compliant brother.  Not that there were no fathers who had enough “cash” to give to a son who wanted to walk out of the house, who had a son who asked to leave instead of run away,[3] who had a wayward son, who would be crushed over such a request, or who gave a son their inheritance early.

The parable does not say that . . . . The Lord could have easily included that point, but He did not because it isn’t important to the point of the parable. It is His parable, and He can include in His parable what he wants to include.  He is creating it, putting it together, fabricating it to accomplish His goal.  That’s the inherent beauty and strength of a parable!

The parable is about “lostness.”  The parable is about the joy of repentance.  The parable is about wasted living and lives.  The parable is about self-righteous-lostness.

The very nature and purpose of a parable need to be highlighted throughout the sermon . . . .

  • “Now watch what the Lord decides to include in his story, because it makes His point.”
  • “It will be a son who is younger in the Lord’s parable.  The compliant-obedient son will be the older son.
  • “The Lord is going to paint a picture of wasted goods and extreme need.  That is the picture he needs to paint to speak to Pharisees and scribes.
  • “Notice how the Lord puts that son in one of the most degrading situations of life, as a Jew — feeding pigs.”
  • “Now the Lord is going to include in His parable what that young son was thinking.  The dialogue he puts into the mind and mouth of that wayward son is what repentance looks like. . . . “
  • “However, the Lord is now going to include another son in His parable.”

It is the creation and design of the parable, which drives the preacher’s sermonic content.  The purposeful inclusion of details, events, situations, persons, locations, and dialogue is what gives weight and understanding to a parable.  #1 – Helping the audience see the purpose and design behind the story #2 – is what drives the points.

We don’t need to agree, but we need to think through what we are saying and doing when handling the Scriptures. These homiletical trends seem to ebb and flow. Hopefully, this trend will also pass.

Unfortunately . . . .

“When you read the same books,
you end up thinking the same thoughts.”

1. Full unedited article link

2. What the preacher said has been echoed over and over by those who teach the parable of the prodigal son.  Another all too common statement is . . . . “By asking for his inheritance, he was saying to his father — I wish you were dead.”  If this were a story ground in history, that still would not necessarily be true.  Such a comment may not be the most crass of all familial thinking.  Were it an actual historical event, he might be saying . . . “I do not want to wait for you to die to be able do what I want to do in and with my life.  I don’t wish you dead.  I just want what I will get one day, now, so that I can do what I want in life.”

3. You see, that is the point.  This was not a story that had a son run away and/or steal his father’s wealth (that would be Jacob and Rachel), because that was not how he designed the story in order to make his point.

“When you keep reading the same books, you will end up thinking the same thoughts.

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