Jesus told stories about every-day things and circumstances so that anyone could understand. Living in the Holy Land, a person would learn about native crops, animals, etc., so such imagery made sense and helped deepen understanding. For instance, parables about sheep and olive trees came alive for the people who spent their days among such things. For us in modern times, these examples don’t quite carry over in the same way.
But the most well-known parables are unique in that they can be understood by anyone, anywhere, any time. Their images are clear, because Jesus personally explained the message of these parables to His disciples (and they, in turn, have explained the messages to us). As you read these parables, watch for deeper meaning that might be hidden within the simple imagery.
When Jesus told stories to the pressing crowds, He didn’t usually identify what His images were referring too. The parable of the sower is one of those stories where the “vehicle” is there (the images of the seeds that flourish or die for various reasons) but not the deeper message it contains (what is true conversion?).
Jesus seemed to want to withhold these messages from certain people (Matthew 13:10 – 17; 34, 35). Remember that the hordes of people who came to see Him preach and heal were a very mixed group. Jesus could discern their hearts and minds. Some were curiosity seekers. Others were sincere. The Holy Spirit could convey spiritual truths to sincere seekers. Hiding knowledge from some actually relieved them of living up to new-found spiritual knowledge until they were ready.
Discuss why and how the Lord withholds knowledge from us, too, until we’re ready to receive it.
The message of the Parable of the Sower was demonstrated by the very crowds that gathered around Jesus. There were many who believed and followed yet eventually turned away. Their faith was fickle. This still happens today. Sometimes followers of Christ do not develop deep enough “roots” of faith, and they quickly fall away when trials come. Others continue believing despite difficulty, and go on to bear abundant fruit. How can we be fertile ground for belief in Christ?
The wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24 – 30; 37 – 43):
Tares are bitter and even somewhat poisonous. But they look identical to wheat when they are young. It’s impossible to pull them out when they are young without confusing them with nourishing wheat. But they betray themselves and show what they really are as they mature. When the harvest time comes, the wheat and tares can be separated.
Note that the tares are gathered out first to be burned, and only then is the wheat harvested. This will be the order of things at the Second Coming of Jesus. The wicked will be destroyed and then the righteous rewarded.
When Jesus talks about “the kingdom of heaven” in these parables, He means the kingdom of heaven on earth, or His Church. One thing you might want to discuss is that all things that God has created have agency, and they choose to obey and uphold God. Would a mustard seed obey God by fulfilling its purpose for creation? Would it be more obedient than we are? Probably, yes. And the size of that seed gives no indication of the height it can grow to. This is symbolic of our own potential.
Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven (the church on earth) to various things in Matthew 13:
A treasure in a field (v. 44); one pearl of great price (vs. 45, 46); a householder (v. 52); and a fishing net (vs. 47, 48). Again, the bad are separated from the good, and the good see the Kingdom as a treasure well worth sacrificing everything for.
The Bible cites the women who followed the Savior (Luke 8: 2, 3):
These women followed Jesus both physically and spiritually, and they ministered to His needs.
To him who hath it shall be given (Luke 8:18):
Gospel understanding is received by the Spirit, and a person who is constantly seeking the Spirit and serving Jesus gradually gains faith and knowledge. A person who rejects the gospel and fails to nurture his natural spirituality eventually loses it. It is similar to the parable of the sower where a hostile environment chokes and kills what tentative life has taken root.
Ye workers of iniquity (Luke 13:24 – 35):
These verses are a scathing rebuke from Jesus for those who think they are chosen simply because they are of the blood of Israel. He talks about approaching heaven and trying to join Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and finding out the door is closed and locked. He conveys that the “chosen” people will be from every part of the earth and not just from the tribes of Israel. People will receive their reward according to their worthiness, not depending on their ancestry.