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Fables and Parables

By Carl S ~

As I child I read Aesop's fables. Returning to them again, I find their wisdom and observations about human nature to be still fresh. For some time now I've thought about biblical parables which are also well known. Let us consider those parables strictly in their own words, and if they hold up as well as Aesop's fables as practical moral lessons.

English: "The Ant and the Grasshopper&quo...
English: "The Ant and the Grasshopper", from Aesop's Fables (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the fable of the grasshopper and the ants, the moral of the story is not to spend all one's time in pleasure, but to be practical as well, working and providing for the future hard times that will come if you don't. On the other hand, we have the parable of the prodigal son with an opposite message: spend your inheritance wastefully, and when you've used it all up, come back to your father and be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams. (Meanwhile, your good and faithful brother is ignored.)

A Biblical parable of the slaves teaches a similar message: The slaves are given “talents,” i. e., money, to invest. One of them, fearing that the master will punish him if he loses it by his investment, buries his talent. For this reason alone, he is punished.

The parable of the sower is confusing. If we are to believe the audience's reaction to it, even they had to have it explained to them. The idea that the seed-sower would expect to have it sprout on rock, hard ground, or where the birds can soon consume it, is a rejection of reality. To explain the seed as wisdom or virtue rejected by individual human beings comparable to rock, hard ground, absorbing too much rain, too little sunlight, etc., is like saying that their very natures couldn't possibly create conditions for those words to sprout, their plants to thrive. (Meanwhile, the implication is that a creator created those humans, those conditions.)

Regarding false prophets, one is warned by example: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.” Yet we have seen good trees with bad fruit on them. Where is the warning in that? What is the moral lesson behind the command to go another mile whenever anyone forces you to go one mile? What of the parables about the dealings of the slave owner with his slaves? Are there really moral lessons to be gained from them when their basic relationship is morally wrong?

The parable of the vineyard workers has the vineyard owner paying the worker who toiled one hour the same wage as those who worked all day. What's the moral in that? The parable of the mustard seed says “It is the smallest of all the seeds.” This is not true. On the other hand, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, (Faith comes in sizes, like small, medium, large, extra-large?), you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there, and it will move.”

What is the lesson of the parable of the shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to bring back the one which has strayed off, and rejoices over it more than the ninety-nine who didn't – “go astray?” Is that really a moral lesson or an excuse to go astray? (And by the way, we have yet to hear of a shepherd giving his life for his sheep. What would be the practical, moral lesson for doing that?)

Oh well, there are common themes in many of these parables: Forgiveness and forgiving. Trouble is, to be forgiven, you have to do something to be forgiven for. And, if like the prodigal son, you do it up big time, the bigger the rewards you get! And, if you're paying attention, you'll notice that killing the one whose telling the parables will get you the “grand prize forgiveness,” because “They know not what they do.”

I'm sticking with Aesop.