3-2 End Stress

Another feature we need to bear in mind is the almost constant stress on the end of the story as the part which makes the main point which the Lord is seeking to get over. Likewise the emphasis is often upon the last person mentioned in the story, the last action, the last words (1). Think of the parable of the prodigal; or how the Samaritan, the last man on the scene, is the example for us. “Go and do likewise” (Lk. 10:37) invites us to go forth and be like the Lord Jesus in bringing salvation to others. Or the man who buried his talent and did nothing with it; the crux of the story is that indifference to our potential is so awful. The parable of the sower focuses in the end on the good seed which brings a great harvest. The fact so much of the seed is lost is in itself an element of unreality- but the focus is on the fact that some seed brings forth wonderfully. And isn’t this just the encouragement every preacher needs? That despite all the hard hearts, the initial responses that come to nothing, all is worth it because someone responds truly.

The prodigal son parable has as its end stress the problem of the self-righteous elder son. This is in fact the crux of the whole story. He refuses the invitation from his father to come in to the feast- an image used elsewhere in the parables to describe rejection of God’s invitation. To refuse such an invitation was a public insult and rejection of his Father. He refuses to address his father as “Father” and refuses to call his brother “brother” [cp. “thy son”]. By breaking his relationship with his brother, he broke his relationship with his Father. As we do likewise. And the end stress of the whole wonderful parable is that we are left wondering how the story finished. The elder brother is left standing there, temporarily rejecting his father, wondering…whether to storm off into the evening darkness, or to turn back and go in to the feast and accept his brother. And this is really the essential point of the story, and the appeal which it makes to us. We may just mindlessly forget some disfellowship case of years ago, leave the decision to others, forget in our own minds that there is a brother or sister begging for our renewed fellowship and forgiveness. Yet it is exactly these issues and our response to them which may decide our eternal destinies. And this was the end stress of the parable…

All these appear to be reasons why we shouldn’t seek to over-interpret every element of a parable- although such approaches often yield very fruitful lessons. Indeed, here is the difference between parables and allegories- an allegory requires every symbol to be interpreted, but parables aren’t like this. It’s a different genre. The focus is often on the end stress, not the details of the parable itself. And so I submit that rather do we need to seek to perceive the main issues which the Lord is seeking to get over to us, through these special features of His stories. Indeed, when the Lord does give interpretations of His parables, He doesn’t give interpretations of every feature which formed the furniture of the parable. When He gives quite a detailed interpretation of the parable of the wheat and tares, He doesn’t comment on the significance of the servants sleeping, the barn, the bundling of the weeds, etc.


(1) This so-called ‘end stress’ in the parables is discussed well in A.M. Hunter, The Parables Then And Now (London: Westminster, 1971), p. 12. 




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