Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’” (Matthew 13:10-13, NRSV)
I read a lot of praise for preaching like Jesus. Parabolic preaching is a term I’d never heard until a few years ago, but I’ve become quite used to people advocating that I preach not with but in stories, just like Jesus did.
I have three problems with this advice.
First, I’m not Jesus. Second, Jesus did not preach only in parables. The Sermon on the Mount, for instance, has some metaphor in it but most of it is pretty straight forward. Third, in passages like the one above, Jesus seems to suggest that the purpose of parables is to hide the secrets of the gospel or confound those who do not understand. Even the disciples are always coming to him after he tells a parable and asking him to explain it to them.
That does not seem like a terribly good model for preaching practice to me, especially since, as pointed out above, I am not Jesus.
In the non-parabolic preaching of Jesus, in Acts, and in the sermonic epistles we see preaching aimed at witnessing, teaching, urging, and encouraging. A good metaphor or a good story shows up in this work, but the goal is to reveal rather than hide the gospel. That is lofty enough a goal for me. I’ll leave my parabolas in trigonometry class.