This is a chapter of parables. We get the word parable from a Greek word (parabolē) meaning “to set by the side” or “to compare.” It is a translation of a Hebrew word (mashal) that we usually translate “proverb,” but we might better translate that word as “wise saying.” The Hebrew word covers a wide range of things, from what we call proverbs to what we call parables, to what we might call a sermon. Jesus’ hearers probably wouldn’t have made a sharp distinction between those things.
During Jesus’ time parables appear to have been used by many teachers. Usually they were given in answer to a question, often a question asked by a follower, and they not only answered the question asked, they did so by showing that there is more to the answer than the follower thought. Used that way, parables are a way of making the questioner think about his question. Do we use parables that way, or do we reduce them to stories whose meaning is obvious, something that doesn’t require that we think? How might we go about using the parables the way the seem to have been used originally?