top of page
  • Writer's pictureElaine Kelly

6 Powerful Features of Parables

Updated: May 12

“I love it when he uses stories. It makes it so much easier to understand what is right.”
Elaine Ricker Kelly, Forgotten Followers: from Broken to Bold

This quote is from a woman in my novel after she hears the parable of the Good Neighbour. This parable showed how the detested Samaritans could provide models of goodness. Jesus's parables bless those with a hunger for God, such as Salome, with a memorable and effective understanding of Jesus’s message. Lately, I've been thinking of my biblical fiction, Forgotten Followers: from Broken to Bold, as a parable. It doesn't tell you what to believe; it shows how Jesus treated people as equals.

1. Parables are Relatable

Jesus told many parables, which are earthly stories that show heavenly truths. Sometimes the whole story is told in a single descriptive picture. Jesus's stories used everyday situations that were relatable to both men and women. The parable of the lost son, with God pictured as a father, is positioned beside the parable of the lost coin, with God pictured as a woman. The parable of the yeast is a short snapshot: “The Kingdom of heaven is like when a woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.” (Matthew 13:33 GNT). It portrays a woman spreading God's word, and is paired with a parable of a man planting a mustard seed which grows into a tree in which birds can nest (Luke 13:18-21). Forgotten Followers portrays characters with fears and emotions that are similar to today, and themes of abuse and racism which continue to resonate.

2. Parables have Hidden Meaning

A parable has both a plain reading and a hidden meaning. The storylines use everyday imagery, but the deeper meaning of the stories is only clear to those with a heart ready for understanding. The parable may portray multiple complex ideas, but it does not explain, clarify, or define what it is teaching. In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1–23, Mark 4:1–20, Luke 8:4–15), some seed was taken by birds, some fell on hard places, some was scorched by the sun or choked by weeds, but some fell on good soil. That is the heart that is receptive and will understand the message of the parable. Those who were looking to test Jesus or oppose him did not understand the messages of his parables. This fulfilled a prophecy that ‘they may have eyes but not see, hear but not understand (Luke 8:10, Mark 4:12).

3. Parables Make a Discussion Accessible to Everyone

Our culture relies heavily on right-brain logic and rational thinking. When scholars use exegesis to study, interpret and explain a text it can use unique language and "it excludes ordinary people from the process of doing theology" (1). Some people do not have the time, interest or ability to read non-fiction theology texts, watch theology videos or listen to podcast analyses. Parables use imagery and imagination and include ordinary men, women, and children in the discussion. Since stories allow us to experience emotions, they can have more impact than intellectual discussions.

Jesus taught women as students, listened to the woman at the well and responded to her questions. Jesus accepted women in the traditional role of disciples, providing for their teacher out of their financial means. Jesus told the men and women that Mary of Bethany had made the right choice in sitting at his feet, learning as a disciple. Jesus told all genders to be apostles, to be the salt of the earth and the light to the world. Jesus told the crowds to become like a child in order to inherit the kingdom of heaven; possibly meaning less reliance on our own logic and more on faith. The listeners did not have to be scholars. Parables hide meaning from the learned but reveal the meaning to the little children.

4. Parables Bring us Closer to God

Ignatius of Loyola, a 15th-century priest, developed a way of praying using Scripture and imagination. This method encourages the seeker to use imagination to place themselves fully within a story from the Gospels. "We become onlooker-participants and give full rein to our imagination." (2) Parables allow you to identify with the characters and identify with their emotions and with your own life experiences. You might imagine Jesus's face, body language, or tone of voice, as well as how other people respond to him. Our imaginations can allow us to know Jesus as more than a historical figure, but as a person, with a relationship to us.

5. Parables are Experiential

Fiction can demonstrate what Non-Fiction states. In my historical fiction, Forgotten Followers, the reader is invited to walk in the shoes of the women who were disciples, see what they saw, and imagine how they felt and what they thought. Like a parable, it is a fictional story that shows a spiritual truth. Some concepts can only be understood when we experience their impact. It demonstrates the good news that Jesus engaged, equipped, and empowered women as disciples and apostles.

Parables not only deliver an idea, but they also invite the reader to experience an idea, ponder it, try it on and see how it feels. It is like a car sales representative encouraging you to take a test drive and see how it feels to be surrounded by a product. In my career in sales, we learned in addition to describing the product's features and benefits, it is critical to describe how the product will make you feel, its outcomes and its experiences. "Sell the sizzle, not the steak."

6. Parables Motivate us to Action

Fiction and stories can connect at an emotional level and motivate us to action. Parables and stories have "the power to touch the heart and bring conversion" (1), while theology based on rational thought may remain a concept and not make any difference in how a person lives her life. In my career as a financial advisor, we learned that "Facts tell; stories sell". For example, which connects with you more, and makes you more motivated to take action:

  • This investment is broadly diversified with exposure to well-established stocks

  • When I used this investment with other clients, they were relieved to be able to retire in confidence