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Searching for Moral Lessons Through Parables

Updated on February 16, 2018
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor splits his time being a special education teacher and a freelance writer.

Rembrants The Prodigal Son
Rembrants The Prodigal Son | Source

“But it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.”

— Luke 15:32

This was the last line of a sermon given by Jesus (The Prodigal Son). It was meant to be a lesson about loss and redemption; yet, it was conveyed through a heavily symbolic and analogous short story format.

Throughout the books of Luke and Matthew of the New Testament, Jesus uttered many sermons through storytelling. And, Jesus meant to do so - as he told one follower - in order to communicate with those that can understand his message of divinity.

Simply put, Jesus valued the power of the parables. These short tales focused on moral, philosophical or religious lessons in a succinct format. They weren’t invented by Jesus. In fact, they’ve been around for thousands of years before the books of Luke and Matthews were written. Still, the parables have been intimately connected with Christianity and Jesus’ teachings.

But, if one believes, that parables are a matter of religion, think again. Movies, TV shows, novels, and short stories incorporated the format within its narrative. And, in the age of the Internet, it’s size and succinct message may fit this new medium.

Comparable to Fables

Parables are comparable to fables, myths, and fairy tales. Like fables, they are told to teach a lesson. And like myths they can describe the way things are supposed to be or were formed. They differ however, because they tend to use human characters, have believable or possible situations, and are analogies.

Usually, they start as similes, or sentences that helps to explain the theme. Many of Jesus’s parables started in this fashion: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” For the rest of the way, extended metaphors and allegories dominate its structure and theme.

To be noted, parable had the same trapping of fables, myths, plays and other forms of storytelling...

Been Around a Long Time

These types of stories have been around for eons. In fact, some scholars speculate (but haven't verified) that they were told around pre-historic campfires.

Still, the source of the word gives an indication where and when it officially started. The ancient Greeks named short stories “parabole”. This term referred to any illustration or writing done in narrative form. The word evolved in later periods of history. It came to represent stories with realistic outcomes and a spiritual lesson. Many of these tales were told through oral tradition with one generation passing it down to the next one.

To be noted, parable had the same trapping of fables, myths, plays and other forms of storytelling: it had characters, conflicts, moral dilemmas and consequences. Eventually, the Greeks began recording the first known parables. This was followed centuries later with the formation of the Bible.

Parables in the Literary World

Parables are not limited to the Bible. Writers such as the popular American writer, Edgar Allen Poe, and 18th century Polish writer and Prince-Bishop of Warmia, Ignacy Krasicki, experimented with this genre.

Also, parables were used in Plato’s Republic. The most famous parable from Plato was the “Parable of the Cave.” It tells the story of one’s ability to be deceived by shadows on the cave’s wall.

The Sufi of Islam.
The Sufi of Islam. | Source

Parables in Other Religions

These stories are not mere products of Christianity or Greek myths. The spiritual movement within Islam – Sufism -- refers to parables as “teaching stories.” And, just like its Christian counterpart, the teaching stories focus on lessons and values.

Hasidic Jews have their own parables, too. The “mashal” represents moral lesson or religious allegory in short story formats. Among the most notable came from the Breslov form of Hasidic Judaism.

Rabbis passed on the oral tradition of the popular Jewish parable “The Rooster Prince,” (also known as the Turkey Prince). This story centered on lesson is on acceptance.

The Rooster Prince was about a crazy prince who believed he was a rooster. He stripped off his clothes, sat under the dinner table and pecked his food off the floor.

His parents, the king and queen, sought the advice of a sage who finally “cured “the prince by taking off his own clothes and sitting under the table with rooster prince. The two soon became friends, and the sage managed to convince the prince that “roosters” can wear clothes and eat at the table.

Like Fables, they put the emphasis on the lesson or moral to be learned

A Modern Take on Parables

As mentioned, Edgar Allen Poe wrote a story entitled: “Shadow: a Parable.” This heavily symbolic and complex story often read like an apocalyptic tale rather than a classic parable (some may even question if it is actually a parable).

A parable is a powerful literary genre. Like Fables, they put the emphasis on the lesson or moral to be learned. Often, the message is of a spiritual and religious nature. Still, these stories --n whether it’s Jesus’ “Prodigal Son” or “The Rooster Prince” -- are forms of literature that lead one toward an awakening to a spiritual side.


© 2018 Dean Traylor


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