Why Believe In Jesus?

Discovering the fundamentals of Christianity!

What is a parable?

Nelson's Compact Bible Dictionary defines a parable as "a short, simple story designed to communicate a spiritual truth, religious principle, or moral lesson; a figure of speech in which truth is illustrated by a comparison or example drawn from everyday experiences". Jesus used parables as a way of helping to make his teachings memorable and something his audience could relate to. However, some would fail to see the metaphors and misunderstand his point, and Jesus' disciples often were among those who didn't quite grasp what Jesus was getting at, but patiently he explained to them what his parables meant. Some of his parables are recorded in the gospels of the New Testament, though he probably told many more.

Listed below are all the parables which Jesus used in the gospels and what they mean. References are also given so you can look them up for yourself if you have access to a Bible, or, if not, why not enter them into a search engine?

Lamp under a bowl

Here Jesus questions the logic of lighting a lamp and then putting it under a bowl. No one can see it! He then says that Christians are like lamps and should let everyone see their light as opposed to hiding it away. In this way you can be a good example to others, letting them see the good things you do and why you do them.

References: Matthew 5:14-16; Mark 4:21-22; Luke 8:16-17; 11:33-36.

Houses built on sand and rock

One who hears what Jesus has to say and then obeys his teachings is likened to someone who builds his house on rock. They have a firm foundation. Because it is solid it can withstand pouring rain, terrible winds and overflowing rivers. On the other hand someone who doesn't obey the words of Jesus is like someone who builds his house on sand - all well and good in the short term but when troubles come it all falls apart. There is no stability and the house will collapse.

References: Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 6:47-49.

New and old

Here Jesus uses two examples to illustrate the same thing. First he says that one does not patch an old coat with a new bit of cloth, then he says that you don't pour new wine into old wineskins. This is because the old coat will still be old and can get damaged even though it has been repaired. Similarly old wine skins will eventually fall apart and the new wine will be wasted. His point is that instead of trying to continually repair yourself, make a fresh start and you will be a new person rather than a patched up old one.

References: Matthew 9:16-17; Mark 2:21-22; Luke 5:36-38.

Sower and soils

Jesus now describes a man sowing corn in the ground. However some of the seeds don't quite make it into the field and land on the path where they are promptly eaten by birds. Other seeds fall on rocky ground with very little soil so they don't have much root. Others still fall among thorn bushes which choke the plants as they grow up. However, some seeds fall where they are supposed to and grow up really well.

So what point was Jesus making here? The disciples were a bit nonplussed by this parable at first so Jesus explained it to them and said that the sower represents himself. The field is the world and the good seed is the people who belong to God's kingdom. Satan, ever malicious, snatches away God's promising message before it's been heard. This is like the seeds that fell on the path which got no chance to grow at all. Those seeds that fell on rocky ground are like those who hear the message but it doesn't mean much and when troubles come, they give up. Those that were choked by the thorns are like people who hear the message with joy but then let worries and love of material things like money choke their promising prospects and don't grow properly to bear fruit. Finally the seeds sown in good soil are like those who hear the message and understand it and then live accordingly so that they bear good fruit.

References: Matthew 13:3-8; 13:18-23; Mark 4:3-8; 4:14-20; Luke 8:5-8; 8:11-15.

The mustard seed

Jesus tells the disciples that the Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which is incredibly tiny but grows to become a massive tree. Birds are then able to come and make their homes in its branches.

Jesus is like the minuscle mustard seed yet his teachings have far-reaching effects! At first only a few heard him but then more and more did and the Holy Spirit has made the church to grow to a vast size, just like a huge tree from a tiny seed!

References: Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18-19.

Weeds

Jesus had another way of describing the Kingdom of heaven. He described a scenario where a man sows good seed in his field. One night when he's asleep, an enemy comes along and sows weed seeds among his wheat. When the good plants grow up and the ears of corn begin to form, sure enough the weeds come up too! The man's servants ask where the weeds came from. He knew an enemy had done this deliberately. The servants then asked if they should pull up the weeds but he said no because some of his lovely wheat might get pulled up too by accident. Instead he told his servants to let the two plants grow together until the harvest when the two would be easily distinguishable and the weeds could be successfully pulled up, tied in budles and burnt and the crop could be harvested and and put into the barn.

Jesus later explained this parable to his disciples again. Jesus is likened to the sower of the good seed. The field is the world and the good seed is the people who belong to God's kingdom, believing Jesus' words. The enemy who sowed the weeds is Satan and his weeds are people who listen to him instead of to God. The harvest represents the end of time and the harvest workers are angels. The weeds are destroyed and burnt and so will people who don't belong to God. But those who do belong to God will be in His Kingdom, represented in this parable by the barn.

References: Matthew 13:24-30; 13:37-43.

Yeast

Yet another way Jesus described the Kingdom of heaven was by comparing it to yeast. A woman takes some yeast, adds flour and it makes the dough rise. This could mean that just as yeast spreads through the dough making it grow, heaven's influence also spreads among people and it grows throughout the world.

References: Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20-21.

Hidden treasure and pearls

Jesus was very fond of trying to get across to people what heaven is like. Therefore he used an array of parables, as we have already seen. Here are another two. In the first, Jesus describes how a man finds treasure hidden in a field. The man is so happy that he covers up the treasure, sells all he has, and then buys the field. Similarly, the second parable describes the same situation but uses a pearl as an example instead of treasure. This man has just found something truly amazing and so he is willing to sell all he has just so he can buy the field with its treasure, or own the pearl. In the same way we must put all our hopes in the great treasure which is God's Kingdom and be prepared to make some sacrifices so we can truly appreciate it.

Reference: Matthew 13:44-46.

Fish in a net

In describing the end of time, Jesus uses the scenario of fishermen catching all kinds of fish in their net. They haul it in, go ashore and then divide the fish into the good ones they want to keep and the ones which are useless to them. In the same way, at the end of time the angels will separate the good from the evil and do away with the latter by casting them into hell.

Reference: Matthew 13:47-50.

The lost sheep

Jesus now uses an example of some sheep. A shepherd owns 100 sheep and one of them gets lost! This shepherd cares for all his sheep and so he leaves the ones who are happily grazing and goes off to find his missing sheep so they can all be reunited. He is absolutely delighted when this sheep is found and is glad to have his original 100 again. In the same way God cares for us as individuals so when even just one of us gets led astray, He will try to call us back to be with Him so that we can be safe in His presence again.

Reference: Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 15:4-7.

Two debtors

Here is a longer parable Jesus told which is about forgiveness. He describes how a king is owed a lot of money by one of his servants. However, he did not have enough money to pay back the debt. The king said he would sell his servant into slavery to get the money he owed but because the servant didn't want to become a slave, he begged the king to be patient and wait for him to get the money. The king felt so sorry for him that he forgave him the debt and didn't require it back. However, this now forgiven and debt-free servant came into contact with one of his fellow servants who owed him a small amount of money. The first servant was furious and started throttling his debtor demanding repayment. The second servant begged him to be patient and wait until he could pay him back but the first servant refused to accept this and threw him into prison. The king's other servants witnessed this event, were quite horrified and reported back to the king. The king was furious at his servant's behaviour and reminded him of how he had forgiven him his debt and yet he couldn't bring himself to forgive an equal of even less debt. He punished his servant by throwing him in prison and demanding the debt after all.

Jesus said that in much the same way God will forgive us if we forgive our fellow human beings from the heart. We owe God a lot more than others owe to us yet God is very merciful and willing to forgive us. However, if we don't show forgiveness to others, God will be less willing to forgive us.

Reference: Matthew 18:23-35.

Workers in the vineyard

Jesus now tells a story about a man who hires two men to work in his vineyard. They were both offered the regular wage of a silver coin for the day. Later in the morning he went out and found some men who were doing nothing so he told them that if they work in his vineyard they would get paid the regular wage too. The men took up this offer. At midday and then again later in the afternoon he hired out some more. In the evening he hired yet more still. At the end of the day they all got paid the regular wage for which they had agreed to work. The first men were cross because they had worked longer yet were paid the same amount as those who started work later. The owner said that they had agreed to work for one silver coin and he said he had the right to choose how much he gave everyone. Jesus concluded that those who are last will be first and those who are first will be last.

At first sight this parable seems to be showing gross unfairness to those who worked all day yet were paid the same amount as those who joined them later. First we must understand what the parable is relating to. The landowner represents God and the silver coin (a denarius) represents salvation. In the parable the landowner agreed to pay the first people one silver coin for which they were happy to work because it was fair and what they would expect. He was not being stingy. So far so good. But when we learn that he offered the same amount to everyone he asked to work for him, we wonder why they were all offered the same amount.

When we remember that the denarius represents salvation, it makes a bit more sense. People can receive salvation at any time in their life - from a very young age to their deathbed. God does not give people who are saved later in life a more inferior version of salvation.

The second thing we must observe in this parable is the fact that God is fair. Initially it seems as though the landowner isn't fair but what's really happening is that those who started work first are getting their full and promised pay and the landowner is just being more generous to those who joined later. Therefore everyone should be happy, but the first lot aren't. It's not because of unfairness that they are angry, but envy. When we see others getting good stuff they don't deserve, we envy them and covet their good fortune. But really we should just be content with what we have and recognise that God is generous to us too. God is therefore both fair but generous and He can be generous with whomever He chooses and He is willing to deal out His grace to everyone. Grace means that we achieve salvation not by our works but by God's generosity.

So, what about Jesus' after-comment about the first being last and the last being first? Well even though some come to Christ later in life, they may be more fruitful than those who have been Christians a long time. In this way the first are last and the last first. Similarly, if you rely not on your works but on God's abundant grace, you will be first and also if you are just grateful for what you have rather than enviously looking to see what others have got, you will also be first!

Reference: Matthew 20:1-16.

Two sons

Jesus tells a parable about a man who has two sons. The father asked his elder son to work in the vineyard. He said he wasn't going to, but later he changed his mind and went. Meanwhile the father had gone instead to his younger son and asked him. He said he would go and work in the vineyard but didn't.

Jesus asked which one did as his father wanted and the chief priests and elders (his audience) answered that the elder one did. Jesus then explained that repentant tax collectors and prostitutes (people the chief priests would consider to be scum) would get to heaven, but self-righteous all-talk priests like them would not because they looked down on others and didn't believe John the Baptist when he explained how to get to heaven. So it is not by works and outwards appearances that gets you to heaven, but genuine repentance and humility.

Reference: Matthew 21:28-32.

Wicked tenants

Jesus now tells a parable about a landowner who plants a vineyard. He then lets it out to tenants while he goes away on a journey. When the time comes to gather the grapes, he sends his slaves to the tenants to receive his share of the harvest. The slaves go and ask for the landowner's share but the tenants show them little respect and kill them. So the landowner sends out more slaves but they too are killed by the tenants. Finally he sends his son reasoning that they should at least show some respect to him. However, when the tenants recogise the landowner's son, they kill him too hoping to get his property.

Jesus now asks the chief priests (who are listening) what the owner of the vineyard will do to his tenants when he returns? They answer that he will surely kill them and let the vineyards out to other tenants instead who would give him his share when he asks for it.

In this parable the landowner represents God, the slaves prophets and the son Jesus. The tenants are those who reject the prophets and more importantly Jesus and his authority. They show no respect for him or the one who sent him and in the same way the chief priests listening show no respect to Jesus either. The Kingdom of God is taken away from people who do not have respect for Jesus but given to those who do.

References: Matthew 21:33-43; Mark 12:1-11; Luke 20:9-18.

Man without a wedding garment

Jesus again describes the Kingdom of heaven. A man prepared a wedding feast for his son. He sent his servants to tell the guests to come to the feast but they rejected it. Other servants were sent out instead but still no luck. The invited guests went about their normal business or even grabbed the servants and beat them and killed them. The king was very angry so he sent his soldiers to kill the murderers. He called his servants and explained to them that because those invited turned it down, they should go instead to the streets and invite as many people as possible. The servants did this and invited good and bad alike to the feast. Soon the wedding hall was full of people. The king saw one man was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked how he had got in without the proper attire for a wedding but he didn't respond. The king ordered him be be bound and thrown outside.

Jesus concluded that many are invited but few are chosen.

Those who reject the invitation in the first place are like people who reject Jesus. They are being offered a free gift for an amazing event but turn it down and lose out. Only a few choose to accept the free gift which God is offering, and that is a place in heaven.

Reference: Matthew 22:2-14.

Fig tree indicates summer

Jesus uses a short example of a fig tree now. He says that when the leaves start coming out and it becomes more and more green, you can tell that summer is on the way. In the same way certain signs will happen to show the end is near. This was less of a parable and more of an illustrative example.

References: Matthew 24:32-35; Mark 13:28-31; Luke 21:29-33.

Ten young women

This parable is about ten bridesmaids. Ten young women took their oil lamps to go out and meet the bridegroom. Five were foolish and forgot to bring extra oil but the the other five brought containers full of oil for their lamps. The groom was late and the bridesmaids began to fall asleep. At about midnight the bridegroom was announced to be coming and the ten women woke up and lit their lamps. The foolish ones were running a bit low on oil so they asked if they could borrow some of the others' but there just wasn't enough to go around. So the five foolish bridesmaids went off to buy some more oil. While they were gone the groom arrived. The five who were ready went in and began the wedding feast. The door was closed. The other women returned with their oil but they were too late. They hammered on the door asking to be let in but the groom said "No, I don't know you".

This is a parable about the return of Jesus. We should always be on our guard and ready for Jesus to return at any minute. He could literally come back any second now. Don't be like the five who were not fully prepared and had inaccurately guessed when he would come. Having oil is like having faith. If you don't have it when Jesus comes you've lost your chance. The feast represents heaven and anyone who is ready for Jesus when he comes back will be more than welcome to join in the celebrations.

Reference: Matthew 25:1-13.

Three servants

Now Jesus tells a parable about a man who went on a journey. Before he left, he put his three servants in charge of his property. He gave one 5000 gold coins, the second 2000 and the third 1000, and then he left. The first servant invested his money and doubled it to 10,000. Similarly the second servant also doubled his money so he had 4000. But the third servant dug a hole in the ground in the hid his share of the money. Upon the master's return, the first two came in and handed over all the money they'd been given plus its interest. He was very pleased with what they had done and said that because they had proved that they could manage small amounts of money, they would be put in charge of large amounts of money in the future. The third servant admitted he was afraid of the master so he just hid his money in the ground and didn't put it to use. The master was angry with him and said he should have invested it too. He took the money back from him and gave it to the first servant who had 10,000 gold coins. He explained that every person who has something of value, more will be entrusted to him but he who has little will find that taken away from him. The third servant was thrown outside in the darkness.

The point of this parable is that God gives everyone gifts and talents and we should use them wisely. Those who display great ability to use their talents are entrusted with more than those who neglect or even abuse what little they do have. It does not mean that God deprives people who don't have much; it's more that God will take away from anyone who does not have the right attitude, just as the third servant in the parable. He wasted what he did have. On the other hand, God is only too willing to provide us with more and more if we prove we are capable of managing smaller amounts.

References: Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27.

Sheep and goats

This is less of a parable and more of an example describing sheep being placed on one side of God and goats on another. The two are separated from one another. When Jesus returns and judges us all, people will be divided up like the sheep and goats in this example. Those who have heard waht Jesus has done for them and then lived for God, believing Jesus will go to heaven and but those who have heard Jesus' message but rejected it will go to hell. However, this example also takes into account those who have never had the joy of hearing Jesus' message. Because God is a fair God, He will not punish people for ignorance they cannot help and so those who never had the chance to know Jesus (e.g. people in deprived areas of the world) will be judged on their actions rather than beliefs. The way you treat others reflects the way you treat God.

Reference: Matthew 25:31-46.

Growing seed

This parable describes the Kingdom of God. A man scatters seed in his field. He sleeps and night and goes about his business during the day and all the while the seeds are growing. He doesn't really understand the science behind it and how the soil contributes to the seeds' growth but he knows when to harvest what he has sown.

Jesus is a man who has scattered "seeds" - that is, people who hear about God and believe it. By God's power we grow in our knowledge and understanding of Him. No one can claim that they are responsible for the growth - it's what God does. We have our part to play just as the man in the parable must sow, water and reap the plants. God will make us grow as Christians but we must facilitate that growth, acting how God wants us to and encouraging others.

Reference: Mark 4:26-29.

The Good Samaritan

This is one of Jesus' most famous parables. It uses the following illustration: there was once a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way, however, he was attacked by robbers who proceeded to steal his clothes and possessions and the poor man was left for dead by the road side. It so happened that a priest was going down the road, but when he saw the poor man, he walked by on the other side of the road. Later, a Levite came along and had a look at the man but then continued his journey on the other side of the road. Then a Samaritan came along and was filled with pity at the sight of the man. He bandaged his wounds then put him on his own animal and took him to an inn. He paid the innkeeper two silver coins and told him to look after the poor man, but said he would come back and pay whatever else he owed then.

Jesus asked the teacher of the Law, who was listening to this parable, which one had acted like a neighbour. The teacher answered the one who was kind to him. Jesus then instructed him to do likewise. We can learn from this parable too. It is important to show love and kindness to all other people, especially when they need our help. It is also worth noting that the man who got attacked was Jewish and yet normally Jews and Samaritans hated each other. This Samaritan was exceptional therefore in showing kindness to someone who was supposed to be an enemy. In the same way we should show kindness to our friends and enemies alike.

Reference: Luke 10:29-37.

Creditor and the debtors

Here is a short parable about the effects of forgiveness. Jesus talks about two men who both owed a man money. One owed 500 silver coins and the other owed him 50 but neither could pay him back so he cancelled the debts of both. He then asked Simon the Pharisee which man would love him more, to which he responded the one who was forgiven more and had owed him 10 times as much!

God is like the creditor who is willing to forgive everyone's debts no matter how much we owe, or rather, how much we sin. All Christians delight in the fact that their sins are forgiven by God but the happiest of people are those who have been forgiven the most. Our joy is directly proportional to our forgiveness, and so no wonder God wants us to come to Him for forgiveness - He wants us to be happy!

Reference: Luke 7:41-47.

Friend in need

This is less of a parable and more of just an illustrated instruction: Jesus uses the example of going to a friend at night and asking if he'll let you have some bread because someone you know has on a journey has stopped at your house and you have nothing to give him. If your friend is uncooperative and won't get out of bed to help, you keep on asking him and then he will give you what you ask for because you're persistent. Jesus then instructs us: "Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be open to you" - if you ask God for something, trust that He has heard you and will repond by providing what you need rather than something unsuitable. We give to our children what they need in life, so how much more will God provide for us exactly what we need.

Reference: Luke 11:5-13.

The Rich Fool

Jesus now uses this parable: there was once a rich man who had land which produced good crops. Unfortunately he had nowhere to keep his crops so he tore down his barns to build bigger ones. He was pleased with himself because he'd stored up for the future and felt he could take life easy from now on. God warned him though that he would die that night and asked who would get what he had kept for himself.

The point is that we must not place too much importance on our earthly possessions and material goods. What use are they to us when we're dead? It is far more important to be storing up treasures in heaven instead by living according to God's instructions because our heavenly treasures will last forever, unlike the meagre things we place hope in now. Don't risk losing your eternal inheritance just to satisfy greed.

Reference: Luke 12:16-21.

Watchful servants

This parable illustrates the return of Christ. Like servants who are awaiting the return of their master after a wedding feast, we should be ready for the return of Jesus at any time. The servants would let their master in at once because they were expecting him back and the master would be overjoyed that the servants were awake and ready for his return. Similarly if an owner of a house knew when a thief would come, he would prepare himself against it. We must be ever prepared for Jesus' return because no one knows when it will be (despite the fact that some people think they can work it out; they can't). Only God knows when Jesus will come back to judge us so we should live properly while we wait.

Reference: Luke 12:35-40.

Faithful servant

Jesus uses another parable to emphasise the importance being ready for his return. This time he uses the example two servants who are supposed to be looking after the house while their master is away. One is doing the work the master expected him to do, looking after the household but the other one is just wasting time, being abusive to the other servants and getting drunk. The servant is surprised when his master unexpectedly returns. Horrified at his behaviour while he was away, he throws him out.

The servant who knows what his master expects of him but doesn't do it will be punished with a severe whipping but the one who doesn't know what his master wants but does something wrong will be punished with a lighter whipping. Those who have a lot will find a lot expected of them but those who have even more still will find much more expected of them.

This parable again illustrates the importance of being ready for Jesus to return at any minute and to not waste your life. It also shows how God is just in punishing those who are unrepentant because those who deliberately do evil and turn people against God will be more severely punished than those who are just ignore God.

Reference: Luke 12:42-48.

The fig tree without figs

Jesus told this parable: a man who owned some land had a fig tree growing in his vineyard. Unfortunately he couldn't actually find any figs on it. He told his gardener that because it had not produced figs for three years it's wasting space and should be cut down. The gardener pleaded to leave it for one more year, saying he would put some fertiliser in the soil and give it one more chance. If next year it still had no figs, it could be cut down.

Jesus uses this parable to illustrate God's patience both with Jerusalem and with us all generally. If we are unproductive and a "waste of space" we can't expect to have any hope for the gift of eternal life which God want to give us, but God is patient and will give us many opportunities to prove ourselves, and wants to help us to do so.

Reference: Luke 13:6-9.

Places of honour at a wedding feast

Jesus explains that if you are invited to a wedding feast, for example, don't sit in the best spot because it could be reserved for someone more important that you. This would result in the embarrassing situation of being moved when the guest of honour comes. Instead sit in the lowest place so that you can only be upgraded. The point here is that if you make out that you are more important than you are, you may be taken down a peg or two. But if you act with humility you could well find yourself being promoted to a better situation.

Reference: Luke 14:7-14.

The great feast

This parable is similar to the one in Matthew 22. Here a man is host to a great feast and has got an invitation list. He sends his servants to alert the guests that the feast is ready and they can come now. But each and every one of them began to make pathetic excuses as to why they couldn't come, for example wanting to look at a new field instead. The servant explained to his master that no one had wanted to come and the master was furious. He instructed his servant to go out onto the streets and find poor wretches instead who would want to come. He did so and loads turned up but still there was room so the servant went out and sought out even more. Those who were originally invited had lost their places at the table, but they had been given the opportunity to come.

This feast represents heaven and the host is God. The servant who goes out and tells people about the feast is Jesus. Not all who are chosen come but people who don't either expect or think themselves worthy to be invited are welcomed by the host to his glorious feast. In much the same way every single person on earth throughout history is invited to God's Kingdom which is infinitely better than the feast illustrated here and yet people reject this wonderful opportunity for pathetic, mundane reasons or simply cannot be bothered. This is an opportunity not to be missed though and heaven will most certainly not disappoint. Don't reject your invitation.

Reference: Luke 14:16-24.

Counting the cost

Here Jesus uses two examples to illustrate the same point. The first is that if you are planning to build a tower, you first have to make sure that you have enough money to finish the job so you have to work out how much the project will cost you. If you fail to make the correct calculations, you won't be able to finish the tower and everyone will laugh at you. The second example is about a king who goes out to war with 10,000 men against another king with 20,000 men. The first king will have to think long and hard as to whether he is strong enough to face the other king with the resources and men he has. If not, he sends envoys to the other king to agree on a peace treaty.

Jesus concluded that in the same way we can't be his disciples unless we give up what we have. In other words, no half measures allowed. Just as a man shouldn't build a tower or go to battle unless he knows he can finish the job, we shouldn't commit to Jesus half-heartedly. You also have to notice that both the examples involve a lot of effort and hardship yet with determination and resources you can make a success of it and ultimately it's worth it. Jesus is also worth it and we should not say "I'll follow you" and then think that life's going to be a cinch without any work, committment or struggles. So although Jesus demands a lot from his followers, in the end he is actually giving us more than we are giving him. The least Jesus could do is die for us so the least we could do is live for him.

Reference: Luke 14:28-33.

The lost coin

In this parable a woman has ten coins but unfortunately loses one. She lights and lamp and searches high and low in her house until she finds it. When she does find it she is overjoyed and tells all her friends and neighbours who celebrate with her. In the same way, God doesn't want to lose any of us. He is a loving, caring Father who will search high and low for us if we lose the way. When we are reunited with God all the angels in heaven celebrate just like the woman's friends and neighbours. It didn't matter that the coin was only small or one of many - she wasn't going to rest until it was found. So much more will God look for us when we are lost.

Reference: Luke 15:8-10.

The Prodigal Son

Here is a parable Jesus told about a man who had two sons. The younger son wanted his share of the inheritance early so he could leave home. But he went far away and squandered his money then realised his mistake. He lived terribly and couldn't bear it so he went home ashamed. When his father saw him returning he ran out and embraced him, delighted that he had come home. The son was still ashamed though and said he didn't deserve to be called his son, but his father disagreed. He loved his son and was so glad that he had come home that he wanted to celebrate by killing his prize calf and having a feast with it. The older son was a bit put out by all this. He demanded to know why his younger brother, who had been foolish, was being celebrated and given a bigger party than he'd ever had. The father reassured him that he loved both his sons but was just so relieved to see the younger one home. It was as if he had died and come back to him.

God too celebrates when any one of us returns to him after going astray. Those who are always faithful are loved none the less but if someone has been led astray and then come back to God, it is a cause for celebration.

Reference: Luke 15:11-32.

Dishonest servant

In this parable there is a rich man. He had a servant who managed his property for him. The rich man learned that his manager was wasting his money so he had a word with him to find out what was going on. He wanted an account of where his money was going and threatened to dismiss him as his manager. The manager didn't know what to do but went to those who were in debt to his master. He asked one how much they owed the master. He responded that he owed 100 barrels of olive oil. He told him to write the account but not put 100, but 50. Then he asked another how much he owed. He said 1000 sacks of wheat, but the manager told him to write 800. The master praised him for doing this shrewd thing.

The manager in this story felt that because he had lessened the debts of his master's debtors, they would look favourably upon him and be able to help him if he lost his job. This action was shrewd. We too should be shrewd, but not dishonest, and be wise and shrewd in getting spiritual benefit just as a man of the world gets worldly benefit.

Reference: Luke 16:1-8.

Rich man and Lazarus

In this parable, Jesus tells of a rich man who lived in great luxury all the time. But there was another man called Lazarus who was extremely poor and was covered in sores. Lazarus went to the home of the rich man and hoped to be given any left-overs from him, but he never got any. The poor man died and went to heaven where he sat with Abraham at a feast. Then the rich man died and in hell (Hades) he was in great pain. He looked up and saw Abraham and Lazarus together. He called out to Abraham and asked for Lazarus to help him in his great pain. Abraham reminded him that while they had both lived, Lazarus had had the raw deal but he had had the good life. Now the tables had turned because he hadn't cared about him in life. Abraham also explained that it is impossible for people to cross between heaven and hell. The rich man then pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus to his father's house to warn his brothers so they wouldn't go to hell too. Abraham reasoned that they already had Moses and the prophets to warn them, but the rich man said it wouldn't be enough; but if someone came back to life, then they would listen! In response to this, Abraham said that the rich man's brothers wouldn't even believe it even if the dead did come back to life.

This parable is not saying that all rich people go to hell and all poor people go to heaven, since often the opposite is the case. The only way to go to heaven is by having faith in God. If the rich man in this parable had repented and believed, he would have gone to heaven himself when he died, and similarly, if the poor man had been bitter towards God and blamed Him for his situation, he would have gone to hell. So the parable is not about rich and poor, but faith and the attitudes possessed by one who has faith. If the rich man had repented and accepted God, he would have shown the poor man mercy by giving him food, which he could certainly afford. But he didn't care one iota about him.

This parable also shows two other things. Firstly that heaven and hell are inaccessible to one another. And secondly that even when the dead are returned to life, it does not guarantee faith from non-believers. Jesus raised the dead three times on different occasions (Jairus' daughter; a widow's son and [a different] Lazarus. For more about these, see the page on miracles). However, to top it all off, Jesus himself rose from the dead, just as he said he would yet still a number of Jews refused to accept it.

Reference: Luke 16:19-31.

Master and servant

In this short parable a master has a servant who comes in from the field after a day's work ploughing and looking after the sheep. The servant then has to make dinner for his master before he can prepare food for himself.

This was a typical scenario in Jesus' day. Slaves didn't have any status. They weren't people - they were possessions. It was not normal for a master to thank his slaves or servants and it would be ridiculous to suggest that the slave eat first. We too are to be servants for God and should not expect thanks for anything we do. We are only doing our duty. What's more is that we're not even very good servants. We never please God as much as we should and no matter how hard we try we are never perfect. Yet God is incredible - he gives us so much stuff we just don't deserve even though we aren't worth it. When God blesses us it is purely out of his immense love, grace and mercy. It is never because we have earnt it.

Reference: Luke 17:7-10.

Widow and judge

Jesus tells this parable: in a town there was widow and a judge. The judge neither feared God nor had any respect for other people. The widow came to him time and time again and pleaded for her rights against her opponent. The judge ignored her for a long time but finally agreed to do something for her because he was annoyed by her persistence.

Jesus concluded that God is not like this judge because He always listens to His people when they cry to Him for help and will respond willingly. However, we should follow the widow's example and be persistent in prayer and not grow discouraged or give up while simultaneously having faith that God will answer us. But we shouldn't keep praying just because we don't think God has heard or understood our concerns.

Our prayers are not always answered at once but God always hears and responds. Yet God's time scale is different from ours and a thousand years is like a day to him. He will give justice but at the right time and will not delay unnecessarily. Meanwhile our faith is strengthened by our perseverence and when we suffer in the short term it brings us closer to understanding what Jesus went through. Never doubt that your prayers have been heard.

Remember in prayer the three Ps: patience, persistence and perseverence.

Reference: Luke 18:1-8.

Pharisee and tax collector

In this parable there is a pharisee and a tax collector. The pharisee went to the temple and stood by himself and prayed saying thanks to God that he was not a sinner like everybody else. He specifically mentions a tax collector who he spots in the temple and says he is better than the tax collector because he gives more of his money and fasts. Meanwhile the tax collector prays too, but can't bring himself to even look up. Weeping he apologised to God profusely for being such a terrible sinner and begged for God's pity.

Jesus said that the tax collector and not the pharisee was in the right with God because he had the right attitude. Those who make themselves great will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be made great. Isn't God amazing?

Reference: Luke 18:9-14.