His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”
He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables,
For they look, but they don’t really see.
They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.”
Jesus used many stories—or parables (Matthew 13:34)—when speaking to the crowds. These stories compare something familiar to something unfamiliar, helping us understand spiritual truth by using everyday objects and relationships. When speaking in parables, Jesus was not hiding truth from sincere seekers, because those who were receptive to spiritual truth sought to understand his illustrations. To others they were only meaningless or entertaining stories. Human ears hear many sounds, but there is a deeper kind of listening that results in spiritual understanding.
Jesus’ parables compel listeners to discover truth, while at the same time concealing the truth from those too lazy or too stubborn to look for it. To those who are honestly searching, the truth becomes clear.
Each parable has one primary meaning unless otherwise specified by Jesus. We must be careful not to read too much into parables, forcing them to say what they don’t mean.