It can be a great and rewarding challenge to preach the parables of Christ. I am currently preaching through Matthew 13 at my church so I hope to offer a few scattered thoughts on this subject over the next few weeks.
Parables can be defined in many ways but for now I would offer the simple definition that a parable is an extended figure of speech presented as a story with a spiritual point. There is a lot of debate as to whether there is one point or many points to be found in parables. Generally, I fall to the side that less is better. When every detail is pressed like wine grapes for spiritual significance then missing the intended point becomes inevitable. There has been a great amount of hermeneutical hopscotch over the last two thousand years which can only be characterized as “inventive” and that’s not a complement.
There are real challenges to be faced in interpreting the parables but a careful examination of the context will payback the expositor a hundredfold. In many cases Jesus will come right out and say “here’s what it means” (e.g., Matt. 13:18-23). Other times the key to interpretation will be found in the prologue to a specific parable (e.g., Luke 18:1, 9; 19:11). Likewise, the epilogue will often yield the meaning and purpose of a parable (e.g., Matt. 25:13; Luke 16:9). Some have even noted that both the prologue and epilogue construct interpretive bookends for some of the parables (e.g., Matt. 18:23-24, 35; Luke 12:16-21). I would agree with Bailey who noted that “before one should seek to understand the significance of the parables for one’s own situation today, one should seek the original meaning of the parables and their application for Jesus’ audience in the first century” [BibSac 155:617 (Jan 98) 31].
For those who want to develop a good grasp of what the parables are all about I would highly recommend Mark Bailey’s eight-part series which I quoted above, “The Kingdom in the Parables of Matthew 13” which began to appear in Bibliotheca Sacra 155:617 (Jan 98).