“The biblical parable is a very specific literary form. As it was developed in the biblical tradition, a parable was a device used by preachers to epitomize a sermon. A whole sermon could be packed up into a parable and put away in the memory and then later brought out again when the occasion arose and unpacked by a process of explanation and elaboration” (Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures, 1:145).
Parables are pithy, to the point, and forcefully expressive. Their power lies in their being compact. “As it was developed in the biblical tradition, a parable was a device used by preachers [and teachers] to epitomize a sermon [or teaching]. A whole sermon [or teaching] could be packed up into a parable and put away in the memory and then later brought out again when the occasion arose and unpacked by a process of explanation and elaboration” (Ibid.).
But parables pack power for a more fundamental reason. “It is the parabolic nature of life which points to the parabolic nature of preaching [and teaching]. Meaning is conveyed by similitude, by analogy, by example” (Ibid., 146). The seeds for these similitudes, analogies, and examples are woven into creation.
The sowing of seed, its growth, fruition, and harvest is one of those signs, as is the beauty of a pearl. The sharing of a meal is a powerful sign. The relation of sheep to a shepherd, the relation between mother and child, the marriage relationship, and by all means the marriage feast—all are signs of the fundamental realities of existence. They are not only fundamental but ultimate realities (Ibid., 145).
What this truth means is that parables are not invented but found, if we have eyes to see and hearts to understand. As Hughes Oliphant Old aptly puts it,
[O]ne of the tasks of the Christian preacher [or teacher] is to interpret these fundamental similitudes of life. We must interpret them as Jesus interpreted them, to be sure. It is not our job to discover new similitudes or invent new parables any more than it is our job to invent new sacraments. The parables are there, built into life. They are discovered, not invented, but it takes the gospel to recognize them (Ibid., 146).
If we have eyes to see and hearts to understand powerful, parables are all around us.