The word for parable, mashal, translates to be “side by side” (parallel explanations), but sometimes it has been used to define the “hidden things” that Jesus taught his disciples and crowds who followed him. Either way, it’s clear that Jesus didn’t belabor his listeners with deep theology and troublesome words, but rather settled on stories to shine a light on what God was really like.
Lately, we’ve been playing a lot of Lego Wii games at my house. Indiana Jones. Star Wars. Harry Potter. These games introduce stories in a way full movie wouldn’t be appropriate for younger viewers, but let them get the gist of what is going on. Jesus told stories to “warm us up” to ideas, helping us deduce and figure out meanings on their own. He used parables to help us consider belief, prayer, witnessing, serving, loving our neighbor, and seeking forgiveness among other things.
It would seem inappropriate to talk about parables today when I could just tell some. So, here are a few modern day parables to consider; the original verses are included for you to critique my work.
Parable of the Sower: Mark 4:3-9
“the kingdom of God is like…”A teacher cultivated his lessons, having adapted the information that was necessary for knowledge, wisdom, and success. He spoke passionately and without exception to his classes, regardless of the reception he received. Some of his lessons fell on deaf ears, where students were allowed to sleep in the back of class, and others chose to be distracted by their cellphones and laptops. Others appeared intent on listening, but failed to truly engage the material, as their purpose there was driven solely by their parents’ wishes. When springtime came, they quickly found other distractions, and failed to continue coming to class. Some of the students longed to listen and to learn, but their relationships with certain other students caused them to become distracted, to ignore their studies, and to skip class when they were encouraged to do so. But some of the lessons were heard by the ears of receptive students, who worked hard, sought additional help, and continued to prosper in school, and life, grasping the opportunities presented to them.
Parable of Wise & Foolish Builders (Matthew 7:24-27)
“the kingdom of God is like…”Two contractors set out to build houses in a beautiful neighborhood, where the asking values were high and the would-be owners had deep pockets. Both of them had received significant training by apprenticeship, and both had the instructions on how the houses should be built specific to the location. One of them set out carefully to establish the ways the house should be laid out, spending time and energy to make sure that the foundation was just so and that the materials had been gathered correctly. The other told his workers to set the foundation knowing no one would see their workmanship when it was covered by flooring, insulation, and the beauty of the house, and hurried off to grab the cheapest materials he could find to reduce overhead and increase his profit. When the day came for the owners to survey their new houses, one was mightily pleased and paid a bonus to his contractor, who had taken the time to make sure that everything was just right; the other took his contractor to court for faults found in the crawl space foundation, for faulty fixtures, and for a general lack of workmanship that showed throughout the house.
Pharisee & The Publican (Luke 18:9-14)
“the kingdom of God is like…”One day, two men awoke and reflected on the lives they lived. As the news played on the background, one thought to himself, “Thank God, I am grounded in the right things, surrounded by church, my devotions, and I’ve raised my children to know the answers. No one in my family has ever taken what wasn’t theirs, murdered anyone, or broken any of the 10 commandments. We all go to church, and we tithe regularly. Thank God we are not the types you condemn to hell.” The other man, an alcoholic, as the news playing in the background, reflected on the mistakes he had made, the sins he had committed. He thought of the people who he owed penance, the greater good he longed to embrace, and silently begged a higher power to grant him mercy he didn’t deserve. It is said that God humbles those who think too highly of themselves, and exalts those who embrace their own weakness and humility.
Parable of Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9)
“the kingdom of God is like…”A well-established church had grown comfortable in their ways, rolling out the same worship, with well-worn hymns, comfortable rhetoric, and systematic greetings to each other with little regard for those who entered their halls for the first time. Over time, their numbers faded, their accounts began to grow bare, and the building gradually slid into poor use. When the District Superintendent came to the Charge Conference, he announced to the pastor that the church would be closed that June, but the pastor argued that the church should be given another year, and if the church didn’t recover, the property should be sold.
Parable of Faithful Servant (Matthew 24:42-51)
“the kingdom of God is like…”Two managers were left in charge of the company, while their boss, the owner, was out for several months after knee surgery. The first proceeded to finish the jobs that had begun while their boss was still there, encouraging his crews to work swiftly and accurately, with the best possible ethics, while he followed up on every referral, every opportunity, and certified that their ad was running in the paper. The other manager told his crews to keep working, but he himself went for round after round of golf for the first few weeks, knowing that the boss would be out for several months, sure that he could catch up whatever work needed done before their boss came back. But instead of three months, the boss recovered in two, and arrived one day to find the efforts of the first and the lack of efforts for the second. One received a promotion and more responsibility; the other was escorted from the office that day, pink slip in hand, and news was spread around the industry of his poor work ethic.
Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)
“the kingdom of heaven is like…a businessman who was receiving a shipment that had to be unloaded that day from the trucks. He went first to the workers he had used before and agreed to pay them a days wages to unload the trucks. By 9 a.m. he went to the Panera for coffee and saw a group of college students in between studies and offered to pay them if they would com and unload the trucks. At noon, travelling to McDonalds to pick up lunch for the men, he found a group of people he’d seen around town at different jobs but who were laid off and offered them the opportunity to work; at 3 p.m., the trucks still not unloaded, he began to travel the interstate exits, asking those with signs panhandling if they wanted to come and work for him. At 5 p.m., the trucks were still being furiously unloaded, and he traveled to the plasma donation center and the homeless shelter and the 7-Elevens asking men why they weren’t working and offering them the opportunity. When it had finally grown too dark to work, he called them together and paid each of the men, from the last to the first, the same amount. When they were all paid, those who had worked the longest complained that they were all treated the same, but he asked them, didn’t you agree to work for what I paid you? Can’t I spend my money as I like? Do you envy my generosity? The last will be first, and the first last.
Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
“the kingdom of God is like…”After working late one evening in his office, a young college student was travelling from VCU to Dinwiddie, but along the way, his engine failed and he found himself stranded on 85 one night. He flagged down a passing car, and found himself beaten, robbed, and stripped of his cellphone, identification, and other documents, lying along the side of the road.
A Republican church elder was traveling by, and he saw the flashing lights and the huddled mass of the man along the side of the road, but he’d volunteered at the soup kitchen, and his wife was expecting him soon, so he called 911 and reported it in.
A Democrat choir leader soon came around the bend, but knowing all of the warnings about picking up hitchhikers, and figuring it was much too dangerous, he averted his eyes, but said a quick prayer that someone would come by soon.
A pastor was driving home from midweek service and saw the man finally sitting up by his car, but his car was clean AND there was that church policy about the pastor not being one on one with a young person. So, he knew God would forgive him because he was following the rules and kept driving.
Finally, a van with a broken tail light, travelling just at the speed limit to avoid attention, came around the bend and slowly came to a stop. Three men of small stature got out of the van, their well-worn clothes a distinct difference from the college student’s well-manicured appearance. They bent over his semi-conscious body, muttering to each other in a language that he couldn’t understand and rough but careful hands carried him to the back of the van. A first aid kit was opened, and he felt water brought to his lips. In a delirium, he tried to thank them but passed out.
The next morning, when he awoke in the small county hospital, he was told that some men had pooled their money to pay his registration fee, refused to leave their names, and left quickly once he’d been admitted.
The kingdom of God is like…