The Thirty-Seven Parables of Jesus

Jesus uses narrative to inform us about his father’s kingdom

The 37 Parables of JesusJesus uses parables—“an earthly story with a heavenly meaning,” as I learned in Sunday school—to teach us about the kingdom of God. We are part of the kingdom of God, and we need to do a better job of acting like it. Since Jesus talks much about the kingdom of God and next to nothing about church, perhaps we need to more seriously consider the kingdom of God as the basis for our behaviors, attitudes, and priorities.

Some of Jesus’s parables appear in two or three of the biographies of Jesus, and others, in just one. Interestingly, John does not include any parables in his biography of Jesus. Here are the parables the Bible records for us, along with a brief summary for each one:

The Sower: The farmer plants seeds. Some grow and produce a yield, but some don’t (Luke 8:5–8, Matthew 13:3–9, Mark 4:3–9).

The Lamp under a Bushel: People don’t turn on a light only to cover it (Luke 8:16–18, Matthew 5:14–15, Mark 4:21–25).

New Wine and Old Wineskins: Putting fresh wine in old wineskins will break the skins and spill the wine (Luke 5:37–39, Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:21–22).

The Fig Tree: A budding fig tree signals the approach of spring (Luke 21:29–33, Matthew 24:32–35, Mark 13:28–31).

The Wicked Tenants: Farmers rent a vineyard but refuse to pay their landlord and are punished in the end (Luke 20:9–16, Matthew 21:33–41, Mark 12:1–9).

The Mustard Seed: A mustard seed is small but produces a large tree (Luke 13:18–19, Matthew 13:31–32, Mark 4:30–32).

The Faithful Servant: A good servant is always ready and will be rewarded (Luke 12:35–48, Matthew 24:42–51, Mark 13:34–37).

The Strong Man: A strong man can protect his house, but a stronger man can overpower him (Matthew 12:29-32, Mark 3:27-29, Luke 11:21–23).

The Wise and Foolish Builders: Wise people build their house on a stable foundation (Luke 6:46–49, Matthew 7:24–27).

The Minas: Some servants invest their master’s money and earn a profit for him, but not all of them do (Luke 19:12–27, Matthew 25:14–30).

The Lost Sheep / the Good Shepherd: A shepherd leaves his flock to search for one sheep that wanders off (Luke 15:4–6, Matthew 18:10–14).

The Great Banquet: Some people miss a great feast because they’re too busy, and others take their place (Luke 14:15–24, Matthew 22:1–14).

The Leaven: A little bit of yeast makes dough rise (Luke 13:20–21, Matthew 13:33).

The Two Debtors: The person forgiven of the greater debt is more appreciative (Luke 7:41–43).

The Pharisee and the Publican: One man exalts himself before others, while another humbles himself before God (Luke 18:9–14).

The Evil Judge: A judge eventually gives a poor woman justice to stop her from bugging him (Luke 18:1–8).

The Master and Servant: Servants work and do their jobs without receiving thanks or honor (Luke 17:7–10).

The Unjust Steward: A man about to lose his job abuses his authority to gain favor from others (Luke 16:1–13).

The Rich Man and Lazarus: The poor Lazarus dies and goes to heaven; a rich man dies and goes to hell (Luke 16:19–31).

The Lost Coin: A woman loses one coin and diligently searches until she finds it (Luke 15:8–9).

The Prodigal Son / the Lost Son: One son is dutiful; the other son leaves home, wastes his money, and returns home in defeat, but receives a party from his dad (Luke 15:11–32).[The parables of Jesus should guide us into living the life he wishes us to live. Click To Tweet

The Wedding Feast: People assume a place of honor at a party and are embarrassed; others don’t and are elevated (Luke 14:7–14).

Counting the Cost: Don’t build a building if you’re not sure you can pay for it; don’t go to war unless you think you can win (Luke 14:28–33).

The Barren Fig Tree: A fig tree that produces no fruit receives a second chance, but not endless chances (Luke 13:6–9).

The Rich Fool: A rich man built bigger barns to store his wealth so he could take it easy, but he died the next day (Luke 12:16–21).

The Friend at Night: A man pounds on his neighbor’s door for help in the middle of the night (Luke 11:5–8).

The Good Samaritan: A man goes to great risk to help another in need (Luke 10:25–37).

The Tares: Weeds grow in the field and will be separated from the grain and then burned after the harvest (Matthew 13:24–30).

The Pearl: A man sells everything to buy a pearl of great value (Matthew 13:45–46).

Drawing in the Net: All fish are caught in a fishnet. The good ones are kept and the bad ones discarded (Matthew 13:47–50).

The Hidden Treasure: A man discovers buried treasure and then buys the property so he can have it (Matthew 13:44).

The Unforgiving Servant: A man is punished after he is forgiven of a large debt but then refuses to forgive a small debt owed to him (Matthew 18:23–35).

The Workers in the Vineyard: All men receive a full day’s wage regardless of how many hours they work (Matthew 20:1–16).

The Two Sons: One son tells his father he won’t work and then does; the other son promises to work and then doesn’t (Matthew 21:28–32).

The Ten Virgins: Ten girls anticipate a party. Some are prepared to wait and they get in; the ones who aren’t prepared miss out. (Matthew 25:1–13).

The Sheep and the Goats: A shepherd separates his sheep from his goats (Matthew 25:31–46).

The Growing Seed: A man plants seeds, but he can’t control what happens to them (Mark 4:26–29).

A synopsis of each parable is given, but their meanings are for you to consider. May each one guide us into living the life Jesus wishes us to live.

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Why Did Jesus Use Parables and What Do They Tell Us?

The Bible records Jesus’s parables to explain the kingdom of God

Why Did Jesus Use Parables and What Do They Tell Us?Jesus talks a lot about the kingdom of God and hardly ever mentions church. This suggests church may be our idea and not his. Perhaps Jesus just wants us to be part of the kingdom of God and church doesn’t matter so much. Seriously.

In reading what Jesus says about the subject, twelve truths about the kingdom of God emerge. We can use these to guide our perspective in what it means to follow Jesus. If we would truly do this, it could change everything about how today’s church functions.

The Kingdom of God: We learn about the kingdom of God from Jesus’s parables. Many times Jesus says “the kingdom of God is like . . . ” and then he launches into a parable. (Matthew often writes “kingdom of heaven,” but he means the same thing as kingdom of God.) Parables teach about the kingdom of God and inform us of what it means to follow Jesus. Click To Tweet

Does this mean all of Jesus’s parables teach us about the kingdom of God? I think so. If the parables can instruct us about the kingdom of God, then they too can inform us of what it means to follow Jesus and how we should think, talk, and act.

Why Parables? Jesus’s disciples ask him why he uses parables when he talks to the people. Though today we see Jesus’s parables as a great teaching tool, Jesus says he uses parables to keep the masses from understanding, that only his followers truly know what the parables mean. And he cites the prophet Isaiah to prove his point (Matthew 13:10-17, Isaiah 6:9-10).

This suggests Jesus intends his followers to understand and apply his parables. To insiders the parables are a guide; to outsiders the parables are a mystery, albeit an intriguing one. Jesus says, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables” (Luke 8:10, Mark 4:11-12). While the Bible doesn’t tell us Jesus’s explanation of every parable, as his followers we should be able to readily comprehend his intention.

The Bible records thirty-seven of Jesus’s parables for us to consider. (Some people come up with different numbers, as low as thirty-three and as high as forty-six.) Luke records the most parables, followed closely by Matthew. Mark, the shortest of Jesus’s four biographies, provides far fewer, while John gives none.

John Shifts His Focus: Interestingly, John also talks much less about the kingdom of God compared to the other three gospels, mentioning it only twice. John wrote his gospel last, much later than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Could John’s failure to mention any parables and his scant mention of the kingdom of God, signal a change in perspective? Perhaps this suggests that by the time John wrote his gospel account, Jesus’s followers had already moved away from his kingdom of God teaching and the parables that support it.

Regardless, we can honor Jesus by returning our attention to what he says about the kingdom of God. His parables are a great place to start.

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How Does the Story End? (Visiting Church #48)

Today’s destination is next door to last week’s; they even share a common drive. We enter, sign the guest book, and head towards the music. Standing just outside the sanctuary, Candy sees an acquaintance, who invites us to sit with her and her husband. This is the third time on our journey we’ve experienced this visitor-friendly gesture.

A self-supporting cross stands in the aisle. I wonder if it’s a regular fixture or something added for Lent. I appreciate the symbolism of a cross being at the center of the space and the focal point for all who enter.

Their pastor is out of town and the laity conducts the entire service, just as with our time at Church #29. I applaud their ability to fully lead a service on their own. The result is a low-key, comfortable feel, lacking any hint of pretense or performance.

A man gives some announcements and then asks for more. Several people stand in turn to share news. Candy’s friend use this time to introduce us to the crowd. It’s a nice gesture, and many murmur their welcome.

Today’s scripture reading, from Luke 13:1-9, follows the Revised Common Lectionary for the third Sunday in Lent. We sing another song in preparation for the sermon, which the bulletin calls “reflections.” Our speaker reads her message, delivering her words in an effortless manner that is easy to hear. Referring to the fig tree in Jesus’ parable, she notes that “Christianity is a religion of second chances.” We don’t know what happened to the fig tree. Did it eventually produce fruit or did the gardener uproot it? “The outcome is ours to choose” – both for this story and for ours.

[Read about Church #47 and Church #49, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #48.]

A Traditional Yet Modern Service (Visiting Church #31)

It’s Saturday, and we head to church, a Seventh Day Adventist gathering. The focal point of the sanctuary is a large stained glass array. Modern and abstract it portrays an arm reaching up, with a dove upon an open hand. I’m not sure if the dove is being held, given to us, or presented to God. I ponder the spiritual implications. Isn’t that the point of art?

To its right are pipes for the organ, prominent, but not ostentatious. Next to them, on an angled wall, resides a large flat-panel monitor. Announcements sequence as the display counts down the time to the scheduled start. The service is the most technologically integrated one we’ve seen so far in our journey and certainly the most professional with its application.

The comforting modern feel contrasts with several traditional elements of the service: singing hymns, the pipe organ, and a male chorus. In addition to the organ and hymns, we also hear the piano a couple of times as well as two contemporary tunes.

It’s World Kindness Week, and today’s service reflects that theme. Two girls read about the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:33-37. The first reads in Spanish. (The only time we hear a second language.) The second girl reads from the KJV, even though the pew Bibles are the NKJV.

Some middle school students perform a skit, presenting modern-day scenarios about helping others. In the message, “Giving at a Cost,” the minister shares a story from Native American lore, again illustrating the theme.

The service is an ideal melding of the traditional and modern. With professional execution, engaging speakers, and compelling content that draws me to their worship.

[Read about Church #30 and Church #32, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #31.]

Should You Build Bigger Barns?

I’m an avid reader. I love books: to buy them, receive them, read them, and collect them. My common birthday and Christmas gift requests are for books. I have four bookcases of them, full and overflowing, with another 100 stacked on the floor.

My overstuffed library is a dilemma. I need another bookshelf.

This reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the farmer who had run out of room to store his crops. His solution was to build more barns. He intended to cease working, live off his stockpile, and enjoy a life of leisure. His plans did not work out — he died that night.

This is a lesson against focusing on the wrong things, in this case greed instead of God.

Although my book-loving perspective is not on this same level of misplaced priorities, I do need to make sure my love for God is not superseded by the books he inspires.

I don’t really need another bookshelf. Perhaps it’s time to give some books away, so others can enjoy them too.

[Luke 12:13:21]

Give to God What Belongs to God

In Jesus’ parable of the tenants, there is a man who plants a vineyard and rents it out.  When it is harvest time, he sends his representative to collect some of the harvest (which is likely the terms of lease). Instead of remitting to the owner what is due him, the tenants refuse, mistreating everyone the owner sends, even to the point of killing his son. The owner then kills the evil tenants and leases the vineyard to others.

Perhaps the first part of this parable is a picture of what God wants from us. As tenants in his creation, he desires us to give part of our “crop” to him as a form of “rent” for the privilege of living here. This seems simple enough, but often we are greedy, wanting to keep everything for ourselves. The implication is that God will then find someone else who is willing give to him what is due him.

This is perhaps what Jesus had in mind when on another occasion says “…and give to God what belongs to God.”

[Luke 20:6-19 and Matthew 22:21]

Do You Want More From God?

Here is another thought building on the prior post about one of Jesus’ parables.

To review, the parable is about a noble man who, before going on a journey, entrusts three servants with varying amounts of money to invest for him. The first two invest their amounts and earn a good return, apparently doubling their stakes. The third however, to whom little is entrusted, makes no effort to invest it. He lazily does nothing and merely returns the original amount to his master. This is done under the guise of keeping it safe. The master takes the money from the lazy servant and gives it to the first servant. The people nearby protest that this is not fair.

Jesus replies “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away.”

The lesson in this seems to be that to those who have been blessed with resources and have been faithful with them, more will be given. However, to those who have not faithful with what they have, that too will be taken away. We must be wise and faithful stewards.

A direct application of this may be for the person who is asking God for more, be it for physical provision or spiritual blessing.  Perhaps their felt lack is a result of them having already been unfaithful with what they had been given; therefore it was taken away.

The warning in this is that perhaps we shouldn’t ask God for more if we have misused or squandered what he has already provided.

[Luke 19:11-27]

Is God Like a Hard Man?

Doctor Luke records a parable of Jesus. It is about a noble man who, before going on a journey, entrusts three servants with varying amounts of money to invest for him. The first two invest their amounts and earn a good return, apparently doubling their stakes. The third however, to whom little is entrusted, makes no effort to invest it. He lazily does nothing and merely returns the original amount to his master. This is done under the guise of keeping it safe, calling his master a “hard man.” The master judges him accordingly, taking the money away from him and giving it to the first servant.

Although we must guard against reading too much into a parable, the noble man in this one parallels God. When the servant declares that the noble is a “hard man,” is this a characteristic that we can apply to God? At first glance it is difficult, perhaps even seeming sacrilegious, to call God “hard,” but is there truth that can be gleaned form this? In balancing the paradox of a God of love with a God whom we fear, does a “hard” God fit somewhere into the picture of who he is?

For those who think God will give them a free pass regardless of how they act or what they do, the image of God as hard, that is a strict God, might be a good characteristic for them to ponder.

However, there are also those who view God as mean and vindictive, just waiting for them to mess up so that he can inflict ill-will upon them. Their view of God is already way too “hard”; they will do well to focus on his loving nature instead.

Yes, God does have a hard side to him, but that’s not all there is to him; he is also loving and gentle.

[Luke 19:11-27]

An Act of Omission is the Failure to Act

When I think of being punished, be it by God or man, I think in terms of things I do wrong. That is, doing things that I shouldn’t have done; some people call these “acts of commission” — things I have committed.

However, there can also be consequences for not doing the things we should have done.  Some call these “acts of omission.”

Jesus talks about acts of omission in a parable about the sheep and the goats. The goats were guilty, not of doing wrong, but of not doing what was right. Their failure was a failure to act. Jesus even gives specific examples: a failure to feed the hungry, a failure to provide water to the thirsty, a failure to show hospitality to the stranger, a failure to give clothes to those in need, and a failure to look after the sick and imprisoned.

Each of these are huge issues — and overwhelming — but enormity is not an excuse for inaction. While one person can’t solve all of these issues — or even one of them — each person can do something, be it simply to help one person who is hungry, thirsty, homeless, needy, or hurting.

Don’t be a goat; help someone today.

[Matthew 25:31-46]

The Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven?

The phrase “the Kingdom of God” is synonymous with “the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Some writers in the Bible simply prefer one over the other; it is not meant to designate two different concepts or kingdoms.  (Mark and Luke used “Kingdom of God,” whereas Matthew used “Kingdom of heaven.”)

These phrases can perhaps be best understood by considering that Jesus desires to brings heaven’s rule to earth.  Under his rule, there are benefits and responsibilities to his subjects — the church.

Jesus explains about the Kingdom of God/Heaven through parables:

How do these parables change your view of God and our relationship to him?