Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, a baptist church in Jessup, MD. B.A. in Bible, B.S. English Ed., M.S. in Educational Leadership.
Why Did Jesus Use Parables?
A good definition of parable is "a simple, short, and fictitious story based on everyday-life, meant to represent a spiritual principle."
In the gospels, Jesus often used parables to teach the crowds who followed him. While we may think that the parables were meant to engage listeners and help them remember and understand the Lord's lessons, the parables were also a form of judgment: they were meant to make spiritual truths difficult to understand (Mark 4:10-12). Righteous people who heard the Lord's parables would ponder the Lord's parables, but wicked people would readily dismiss his teachings because they did not understand them and because they did not believe (Matthew 13:12). Thus, the parables were a double-edged sword.
Parable about The Bridegroom's Guests and The Bridegroom
In the gospel of Mark, Jesus tells a parable about wedding guests and the bridegroom.
And Jesus said to them, “The bridegroom’s attendants are not able to fast while the bridegroom is with them, are they? As long a time as they have the bridegroom with them, they are not able to fast. 20 But days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. (Mark 2:19-20, LEB)
As you can see, this parable is very simple and very short. It should also be easy for us to understand its meaning if we keep things simple.
In order to interpret the Lord's parables in the gospels, you need to consider (i) the elements within the parables, (ii) additional explanations given by the Lord, and (iii) the context of the parables.
Analyzing the Parable
This parable does not really tell a story. Jesus simply mentions the bridegroom's guests and the bridegroom himself. Where are they? What are they doing? Jesus doesn't tell us where they are, nor does he tell us what they are doing.
Nevertheless, the "story" makes more sense to us if we use common sense and infer that the bridegroom's guests are at the bridegroom's wedding—however, we should keep in mind that the wedding itself is not an alement Jesus incorporates in the parable.
Now, the Lord does give us some important information: he tells us that the bridegroom's guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them. So, this story is not about what the bridegroom's guests are doing, but about what they are not doing.
What Jesus Says
Jesus does say something important that helps us understand the parable: he says that there will be a day when the bridegroom will be taken from the bridegroom's guests, and then the bridegroom's guests will fast.
The point of the parable, then, is that the presence of the bridegroom prevents the bridegroom's guests from fasting.
As we look at the context of the passage, we see that Jesus told the parable to answer a question that was made to him:
18 And John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, and they came and said to him, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (Mark 2:18, LEB)
Those who asked the question wondered why Jesus's disciples did not fast, whereas the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees did fast. What was so different about Jesus's disciples? Where they cheating? Those who asked wanted to know why, and Jesus's prable is meant to answer the question.
Interpreting the Parable
From here on, all we need to do is put the pieces together. Jesus's disciples were not fasting and people wanted to know why. So, Jesus tells a parable about a bridegroom's guests, who aren't fasting either.
Who do you think the bridegroom's guests in the parable represent? That's right, they represent the Lord's disciples—notice that, just like the disciples, the guests do not fast. Jesus's disciples did not fast, so Jesus tells a parable about wedding guests who do not fast.
Now, why aren't the wedding guests fasting in the parable? Think about it: do people fast at weddings? Of course not! People eat, drink, dance, and socialize at wedding. People do not fast at weddings because fasting is an expression of grief, distress, and great need. Fasting during a wedding makes no sense.
However, remember that we are inferring that there is a wedding, but Jesus did not say anything about a wedding. Read the parable carefully, and you will realize that Jesus does not say the bridegroom's guests do not fast because they are at a wedding: instead, he says that the bridegroom's guests do not fast because the bridegroom is with them. Jesus is not focusing on the event, but on the presence of the bridegroom.
However close the event and the bridegroom are in our mind, we must take a careful look at the elements that are actually in the parable, not things that we have inferred.
Who is the bridegroom? What does he represent? Think about it: if the bridegroom's guests are the disciples of Jesus, then the bridegroom is Jesus himself.
The reason the bridegroom's guests do not fast is that the bridegroom is with them: the presence of the bridegroom means they should be rejoicing—after all, the wedding is for the bridegroom. Similarly, the reason the Lord's disciples do not fast is that Jesus is with them: the presence of Jesus means they should be rejoicing—after all, Jesus is the Christ, or Messiah (Mark 1:1).
For centuries, the ancient people of Israel had been praying for God to send them the Messiah. While God did not send them the Messiah, it made sense for them to pray and fast. However, now that Jesus was there, their prayers had been answered: the Messiah had been sent to them. Therefore, it no longer made sense for them to fast—it especially made no sense for Jesus's disciples to fast since he was with them.
Nevertheless, Jesus did say that there would be a time when the bridegroom would be taken from the bridegroom's guests: he hinted that he would not be with his disciples all the time. According to Jesus, that would be the time when his disciples would fast.
The time for Jesus's disciples to fast eentually came when Jesus left Earth and ascended to heaven.
Believe First, Understand Later
Now, the text does not tell us how those who asked him responded to the parable. It is possible that there were different reactions to his words, such as the following:
- Some who did not understand the parable probably wanted to find out what it meant since they took Jesus seriously;
- some who did not understand the parable were not interested in what it meant since they did not take Jesus seriously;
- some who understood the parable decided to believe in Jesus as Messiah;
- some who understood the parable decided to reject Jesus as Messiah;
- some who understood the parable decided to wait and see what else Jesus would do or teach, but they were not ready to believe in Jesus after the parable.
People had to decide whether to believe in Jesus basing themselves on what they saw Jesus do and what they heard him say. The danger of the parables (remember, they were a form of judgment) was that the parables did not provide objective validation to Jesus. The parables had to be accepted as true because Jesus said they were true—but people did not always understand what he meant, and many were still trying to figure out who He was.
Parables did not require people to first understand and then believe, but to first believe and then understand. In this way, they were a form of judgment.
Note to The Reader
In my next post on the parables of Jesus, I will discuss the parables on the patch and the wineskins. I invite you to follow me so we can study the parables together.
Share your thoughts!
© 2022 Marcelo Carcach