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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Our problem with Jesus' parables

We think we know what they mean so we miss the surprise

Most of the Gospel passages read in Sunday worship this lectionary year come from Luke, where we find some of Jesus' most beloved parables — the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep. That's a delight for some, but for others, preachers and listeners alike, it's not. They think that we have, somehow, exhausted these parables of all meaning.

Still others argue that questions about Jesus' parables make it difficult for them to speak to us: Are all the parables actually from Jesus? What, if anything, is distinctive about Jesus' reason for telling parables or his way of telling them?

There is a problem with the parables — but none of those just mentioned. Our problem with Jesus' parables is singular and simple: We think we know what the parables mean.


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