I read a story about a Sunday School teacher who wanted to teach her class the dangers of alcohol. She took two glasses, poured whiskey in one and water in the other. Then she put worms in each glass. Eventually, the worms in the whiskey glass died, and the worms in the water were still living. She asked the pastor’s son what he could learn from this? The boy said, “If you drink whiskey, you won’t have worms.” That’s an exercise in missing the point and he may have learned it from his dad. Some people view the parables the same way. We can try to figure out some special significance to every word in the parable and by doing so, we miss the point. I taught this in Sunday School once, and as an exercise, we decided to see if we could discern the meaning and significance of the Canadian Flag, the red and white flag with a single maple leaf. One young man said that he thought the Maple Leaf was probably related to the ancient vexillology of kings, the tree representing strength and stability. Another theory was it symbolized pancakes. Maple leaf, maple tree, maple syrup, pancakes. A third theory was maple syrup is sweet and so are Canadians. Well, it turns out, when we looked it up, there was no special significance to the flag. Canada needed a flag, and someone designed that one and that’s the one they liked. Our flag has symbols, the stripes and stars represent things. The Maple Leaf didn’t have any deep meaning at all. Sometimes a leaf is just a leaf. In the parables, sometimes a leaf is just a leaf. Sometimes, the character or setting in the parable is just a character or a setting with no special significance to the point.
We are much better off getting the truth where the truth is taught. The only sure footing is to follow God’s Word. If I teach and prove a right doctrine from the wrong place, consistency will eventually prove the passage doesn’t really teach that truth. I believe that method of preaching ultimately does more harm to God’s people than it does good. People will either lose confidence they can interpret the Bible, or stop trying to understand it themselves. I think if a pastor is going to preach the Bible, he ought to preach what the Bible says, where it says it. Parables are not spiritual inkblot tests where you stare at the Bible verse until you can see something in the text. You should read the parable, think about it, pray about it, compare it to other Scriptures, and then come to the conclusion of its meaning. Jesus told the parables to make a point about something and the wise and safe thing to do, in my opinion, would be to come to the point Jesus made. Creative interpretations make interesting sermons. But is that worth putting words in the mouth of Jesus?