Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

The Parables of Jesus

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

In this chapter we will examine the parables told by Jesus, and recorded in the Synoptic Gospels.

What is a parable? Simply stated, a parable is a short story intended to teach a moral lesson. A parable, for example, could be used to teach that adultery, which is socially semi-acceptable these days, is morally reprehensible.

Why did Jesus use parables? There are several reasons why he probably chose to use parables as a method of teaching. One is how a story can convey the teaching in a setting everyone is familiar with; for example, Jesus audience could easily relate to the problems a farmer has when sowing seed.

Another reason is that it is easy to deliver a politically sensitive teaching, without calling out a specific person or group directly. For example, in the parable of the Unmerciful Servant, Jesus takes on the Scribes who held to a literal interpretation of the Old Testament law.

How many Parables are there? Scholars have debated this for years, with numbers ranging from 28 to 70, depending on what the counter determines to be a parable. For this study will will stick to the smallest number, as everyone seems to agree that these are parables. These parables can be separated into three categories, based on when they appear in Jesus’ ministry:

  1. The Kingdom of God. These appear in the beginning, after the Sermon on the Mount:
    1. The sower
    2. The wheat and tares
    3. The seed that grows secretly
    4. The mustard seed
    5. The leaven
    6. The treasure hidden in the field
    7. The pearl of great price
    8. The net cast into the sea
  2. Repentance. Appearing near the end of the third year of Jesus’ ministry these are a call to repent for our sins.
    1. The Good Shepherd
    2. The lost sheep and the lost drachma
    3. The prodigal son
    4. The publican and the pharisee
  3. Accountability. Finally, before the passion and crucifixion, Jesus presents parables that tell us that we will be held accountable if we do not recognize the call and repent our ways. This is the largest section, as the message is urgent to each of us.
    1. The unmerciful debtor
    2. The good Samaritan
    3. The unjust steward
    4. The rich man and Lazarus
    5. The rich but imprudent man
    6. The servants and the money
    7. The talents
    8. The Builder of the Tower and the King Preparing for War
    9. The friend who asked for bread
    10. The unjust judge
    11. The evil husbandmen
    12. The barren fig tree
    13. The marriage feast
    14. The laborers who received the same wages
    15. The ten virgins
    16. The servants awaiting the coming of their Lord

We will examine each of this, with particular interest in the meaning as understood at the time, as well as the message to us today. It’s important to understand how Jesus’ audience would have understood the parables, for it is to them that the message was given. If we do not understand what it meant to them, how can we apply the teaching to our current world? How many of us are farmers? What was life like under an all-powerful king? What does it mean to lose a denarius? We will look into the life behind the parables to obtain a fuller understanding of their teachings.

As always, your questions and comments are always appreciated.


Comments on: "An Introduction to the Parables" (3)

  1. I love the parables Jesus used. May we learn from them all. Bless you.


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