Bible Studies > Self-Portraits of God: Lesson 1: General Introduction

Self-Portraits of God

Studies in the Life and Work of Jesus

Lesson 2: Pictures from the Parables

General Introduction

At the farm we have recently been enjoying watching the little dog and the little horse as they are growing up. These two are great friends. One day they were out in a small pasture playing along side of the fence. Little dog would suddenly jump at little horse as if he was going to bite him on his heels, and little horse would just as quickly turn and run as fast as the could along the fence to the other side of the field with little dog right behind him, barking as loud as he could! Little dog sounded very fierce! However when the two of them had reached the far side of the field little horse would slide to stop, turn around very quickly, lower his head as if to bite little dog and chase little dog as fast as the two of them could go back to the near side of the field, where they would both stop, turn quickly around, and do it over again, until little horse got tired.

When little horse got tired he would suddenly stop running and hang his head down and go to sleep! When he woke up they would often start up their game again. Sometimes little dog would get tired of waiting for little horse to wake up. Then he would jump at little horse barking loudly while little horse was still asleep! Sometimes it worked and little horse would jump and start to run—it seemed before he had awakened!

One day as I came around the corner I saw little horse with his head hanging down, sound asleep, in front of the children’s swing set. When little dog saw me he immediately remembered the sleeping horse, and just as quickly ran behind him, and marked furiously!

The sleeping little horse did what it seemed he had done many times before—he leaped straight ahead! His head went between the chains for the swing; the seat of the swing came up across his chest; the swing set itself came down across his back, and he ran! Fast as he could go, he ran across the big field, jumped across a small creek, and continued to run as fast as he could for about a quarter of a mile before turning around and racing back to the house where I was now standing. Every little ways as he was running a piece of the swing set would break loose and fall into the field.

By the time he was near to me there was not much of the swing set left hooked to him—just the swing across his chest with the chains growing up to the main bar of the swing set , which was across his back. He stopped near where I was and stood perfectly still. His eyes were very large; he seemed to be very frightened, but he did not move. I approached him carefully so I would not get hurt if he suddenly decided to run again, but he did not move. He stood like a statue, crosswise in front of me. The one eye I could see him looking at me with was also motionless. As I unhooked the chain from the swing and dropped it on the ground, I expected him to run away but he did not move, even then.

I gently removed the bar of the swing set from his back and stepped back. He continued to stand very still for a moment or two, then tried moving forward. When the swing set did not follow him he trotted off, watching me, as if to say, thank you.

The point of this storytelling is of course to present the question—is this story a parable? What is it that makes a parable a parable—the thing we are going to be searching, looking for portraits, in this lesson?

A parable is a told-story presented by the teller so as to present to the hearer a real-life situation in which one can by association see the main point, or points, the speaker wishes to convey. Many times the elements making up the story are significant to the meaning or messages the teller of the story intends to be understood by the hearers. In such a case the parable can carry many messages, each attached to a portion or symbol of the story. That which makes a story into a parable is therefore seen to be the intent of the storyteller. The accuracy with which the elements of the told-story portray the message being illustrated is of course dependent on the knowledge of the storyteller regarding the object being used as a symbol for his message.

The desired function of a parable is to make clear by familiar association the presentation of ideas which by themselves may be strange to the hearer or hearers. The benefits of parable telling are several; but the greatest is probably the memories that come flooding back to the hearers each time they see the illustration used by the story teller happening again in the world around them.

The parables of Jesus are therefore stories He told to make clear and familiar to His hearers principles and ideas that might otherwise be unfamiliar—principles that were the way of life in the Kingdom of Heaven that He was inviting them to become a part of. With parable telling the invisible glory of heavenly truths became visible by being illustrated with earthly things that were familiar to the people. Some of these stories told to people were themselves about people; stories like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. The elements of daily life thus illustrated often became invested with a significance not recognized by their observers before hearing the parable.

As such the nature stories Jesus told as parables about the Kingdom of Heaven, and about daily life, made nature a vehicle of revelation; a vehicle generally unrecognized as revealing God’s presence in daily life before Jesus used it for that purpose. The events of daily life as given understanding by looking through the windows of the natural world took on a special meaning—they became, to the follower of Jesus, self-portraits of God and His Kingdom found in their own lives.

We turn now to a study of the parables Jesus told, and some of the messages they carry.
If these stories are at all new to you, you may find yourself wishing that you could have been present to listen to these presentations as Jesus spoke them. You might have wanted to ask some questions—some of His hearers did! Jesus told stories about everything from yeast to figs that were not! But I’m getting ahead again!

Now to the stories.

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