Before we explore the eighth and last part in our series, ‘Why did Jesus die?’ we are going to take a quick break and take a brief look at six parables told by Jesus. A parable is not just a nice story or a fable that conveys a deeper moral meaning. A parable is designed to do two things; to describe what God is like, and also to jar with the listener — to make the listener stop in his or her tracks and ask, “What?” In this Insight you will need to grab a Bible or use an online resource such as biblegateway.com!
1. The Parable of the Mustard Seed.
Read: Matthew 13:31-32
It sounds pretty straight forward, right? The Kingdom of God is something that is designed to grow bigger, however mustard was considered to be a weed, and you certainly would not plant it in a garden, and it did not grow into a tree that birds could nest in! Either Jesus needed to listen to more of BBC Gardeners’ Question Time or he wanted his listeners to stop in their tracks. Why plant a weed in a garden and then describe that weed as growing as big as a tree? What does this say about what God is like?
Jesus invites us to be part of God’s kingdom — a spiritual, Godly kingdom where there is equity, justice, peace, love and harmony between humans and the world in which we live. When we do these things — when we love one another — God’s kingdom spreads or grows, however, the invite is not only for the pious or the holy. It is not just for the beautiful plants but for the weeds too. The invite is extended to the lowly, the outcast, the broken, the bereaved and the hurting. To those that feel that they are small and worthless, God says, in my kingdom you will grow and you will flourish. You will be transformed by me into something beautiful and valuable. If, today, that is you; if you are feeling weak, small, vulnerable, or worthless, take heart, for the Kingdom of God is for you.
2. The Parable of the Lost Sheep
Read: Luke 15:1-7
A sheep farmer friend of mine told me that sheep do two things. They ‘get out’ and they ‘get killed’. This is a bit pessimistic but it is true. Even though there is safety with the shepherd and safety in numbers, they like to wander off and get into trouble.
In this parable the Shepherd is God and we are like the sheep that have gone astray. On first hearing you think this is a pretty straight forward story in that God rejoices when we turn back to him, however here is the rub. A shepherd would not leave the ninety-nine to go and find the one missing, presumably dead, sheep, and then, when the sheep was found the shepherd might leash it or drive it with a stick, however they would not carry a smelly sheep home on their shoulders! Finally, when the shepherd got home they would not throw a party with all their friends and neighbours to celebrate! That is the point.
Remember, a parable describes what God is like, and Jesus is telling us that God is no ordinary shepherd. He is searching for us. He wants to find us and hold us close, and when he does find us he wants to celebrate because it means so much to him. Therefore, today, if you find yourself lost — if you have wandered off or gone astray — know that God is out there looking for you. He longs to find you, to bring you home and to throw a party. Why? Because that is what God is like.
3. The Parable of the Lost Son
Read: Luke 15:11-32
Is this not how any father would react? Perhaps not ‘any’ father, however Jesus wants us to know that this is how God reacts when we turn back to him. In the parable the father is clearly watching for the son to return. While he was still a long way off his father saw him coming and, hitching up his cloak and in danger of losing dignity, forgetting that his son wanted him dead, ran to embrace and kiss him and to welcome him home. What the son had done — his past — was no longer of any concern. He was home and that was all that mattered.
Today, you might feel a bit like a lost son or daughter. Want to know what God’s reaction would be if you turned back to him? He is watching and waiting, longing to run to meet you, to embrace you and to welcome you home.
4. The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Read: Luke 10:25-37
Of course, the bit that makes you sit up and take notice is that it was the Samaritan, the guy from Samaria, and not the priest or temple helper that offered help to the Jewish man beaten up by bandits. In first century Palestine, the Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people and they were considered the lowest of the low, therefore this parable is not just about helping people, it is seeing people — no matter what religion, tribe, social standing or ethnic background — as God sees them.
I wonder who the equivalent of Samaritans are to us in our modern world? Who are those that are downtrodden, despised and thought of as second class citizens in our society? How does God see them and how can we do the same?
5. The Parable of the Vineyard Workers
Read: Matthew 20:1-16
Jesus shocks his listeners when they hear how the workers were paid. Even today, we like to think of ourselves as fair and generous but this story jars on us because it seems unfair! Surely those that worked fewer hours should be paid less? The reality is that God, represented by the landowner, is not unfair but abundantly generous. Jesus is saying that no matter how you have spent your past there is always a future to be found in God.
Today, if you look at your past with regret, if you are worried that you have wasted your life, or feel that it’s too late for you, know that God is a God of new beginnings and he welcomes you with open arms.
6. The Parable of The Great Banquet
Read: Luke 14:16-23
Again, in this parable we encounter God acting differently to the way we would. If we prepared a party, sent out invitations and everyone refused, we would cancel the party, however God is not like us. No, God is super-abundant and super-generous. Jesus is saying that God’s invitation is to the poor and to the sick. I love that phrase, “Go into the country lanes and behind the hedges.” Who do you find sleeping behind hedges? In other words, God’s invitation is to those who find themselves without a home — the lost, the marginalised, and the broken.
In the story of God there is no-one who cannot be redeemed, renewed and restored. God longs for his banquet to be full of guests, and no matter who you are, what you have done or where you have come from, you are invited to God’s party. The question to all of us is, will we accept the invite?