How do we make sense of Jesus’s challenging parables?

Jesus’s challenging parables are never against people themselves – Jesus doesn’t overturn the tables because he dislikes the tax collectors, or tell parables against the temple authorities because he opposes them as people. Rather, Jesus opposes the practices and systemic ways of life that aren’t actually aligned with the idea of abundant life for all.

A passage at the beginning of Mark illustrates this idea beautifully, and foreshadows Jesus’s final days in Jerusalem:

Again Jesus entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They were watching Jesus to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then Jesus said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. Jesus looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” The man stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. – Mark 3:1-6

Although the Sabbath is supposed to be a life-giving observance, following the rule had become more important than saving and restoring life. Jesus reorients us, with anger and challenge. But key to understanding Jesus’s challenging parables is God’s love and the life that flows from God’s love; Jesus challenges the practices and systems that are against God’s love and abundant life. – Vicar Aaron Musser