Eugene Boring describes the parables of Jesus in this way: “In the preaching of Jesus, parables were not vivid decorations of a moralistic point but were disturbing stories that threatened the hearer's secure mythological world -- the world of assumptions by which we habitually live, the unnoticed framework of our thinking within which we interpret other data [New Interpreter's Bible (Matthew), 299].”
I like this way of thinking about parables. Parables threaten our assumptions. They fracture the meta-narrative that guides our lives. They help us to engage the world in a different way than we had before by shifting the way we think and act.
Parables are sometimes defined as “earthly stories with heavenly meanings.” While I do not wish to dismiss this definition, I think that there is another way of engaging the parables.
Ched Myers writes: “Jesus insists upon articulating the ‘mystery of the kingdom of God’ in utterly mundane, indeed agrarian terms: it is like this! In describing the frustrations and hopes of any peasant farmer, Mark’s Jesus is not exalting the terrestrial into the heavens, or shrouding the plain and common in arcane mysticism, but rather bringing ‘theology’ to earth in a concrete discourse intelligible to the poor (Myers, 173-74).”
Jesus is teaching about God’s kingdom in a way that connects the in-breaking power of God to the daily lives of those he encounters.