Jesus is generally considered a master storyteller, popular for the many parables that he told which were renowned for their simplicity. Yes, these parables contain tremendous depth of meaning, much of which is concealed, and according to Jesus, deliberately so. When the apostles asked him why he spoke to the people in parables, he answered: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” And if that wasn’t bad enough, he said that the meaning was also concealed from the prophets and righteous. Why would Jesus…
Picture this: You are at a prayer service and Jesus makes a surprise appearance. He says, “I see that you are interested in finding the kingdom of heaven. Listen: the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Got it?” He smiles brightly at you and walks away. Did you understand that? If this was the first time you were hearing this parable, it is likely that you didn’t and your face looks as blank as the…
Undoubtedly one of the most famous stories ever told, this tale of a father’s unconditional and forgiving love has been told a million times in pulpits around the world. It is a story of grace and if one ever needs an understanding of what that word means, they can find it in the parable of two brothers and their amazing father. The problem, however, with a story that has become so familiar, is that it breeds the proverbial contempt, so it wouldn’t hurt to retell the story, perhaps in a more modern context.  The parable retold A very rich man…
There is another character in this story—the elder son—who is often given scant attention in the telling of this tale, which is a pity because there are as many lessons to be learned from him as from his younger brother. Jesus was trying to make the Pharisees understand that he was a representation of them, but most of them didn’t seem to get the point. Let’s hope we do.  The parable retold again Imagine, if you will, that you have a younger brother, who for some strange reason is beloved of your father. You never could understand this because you…
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the better-known parables of Jesus, with hospitals, organizations and even laws named after the hero of this story.  The parable has been interpreted in various ways, with a popular one saying the traveler represents man, the robbers represent the devil, the priest and the Levite represent the Law and its sacrifices, and the Good Samaritan represents Jesus. The wine stands for the blood of Christ, the oil stands for the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the inn is the Church, and the innkeeper its priests. The two coins signify the Sacraments. …
If we were to see our pastor (or priest or preacher) sitting in a pub with what appears to be a glass of whiskey and sharing a joke with a woman who looks like she might be a prostitute, what is the first thing that would cross our minds? I am certain that a lot of us would think that the pastor/priest/preacher was up to no good and revealing his true character!  Should it surprise us, then, that the religious leaders of his time questioned the character of Jesus when they saw him constantly consorting with people they believed to…
Graham Staines was a Christian missionary from Australia who worked with lepers in Orissa, a state in the North of India. Early one morning as he slept in his Jeep with his sons, Phillip (9) and Timothy (6), a group of anti-Christian militants surrounded the vehicle and set it on fire, burning the man and his two children alive. Less than 24 hours after the incident, which shocked—and shamed—a nation, his grieving widow Gladys came out in front of the whole world and publicly forgave the killers. Would we be able to do the same?  It isn’t easy. Next to…
The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is quite possibly the darkest and most disturbing of the stories that Jesus told, what with the picture that he paints of hell. It isn’t a pleasant picture and on numerous other occasions Jesus has spoken of it describing it as “everlasting fire”, “eternal condemnation”, and “the fire that shall never be quenched”. In effect, it is a place of terrible suffering where the pain goes on and on forever.  Hell is not something that many people take seriously, believing as they do that a loving and compassionate God would never let…
At the start of his chapter on parables in his book “Preaching the Literary Forms of the Bible,” author Thomas O. Long declares: “Preaching a parable is a novice preacher’s dream but often an experienced preacher’s nightmare.”  It isn’t much easier for the writer, especially with a parable such as The Laborers in the Vineyard where the explanations offered have been as many as the expositors offering them. However, following the pattern of analyzing parables that we have established (see previous issues), I believe that the main points of the parable can be determined with a fair degree of certainty…
Our generation is the most self-centered, self-absorbed, and self-focused the world has ever seen. The emphasis is always on “me” and if we are inclined to extend our coverage, we might include our families, but any inclusion, even then, is often based on self-interest.  This preoccupation with self also leads to self-glorification to which most New Age movements and humanistic philosophers pander to, resulting in a huge cacophony of self-aggrandization. All we have truly succeeded in accomplishing, however, is becoming expert in the art of self-delusion, because for all the happiness that “doing our own thing” is supposed to bring…
Many people expected the world to end in 2012. This expectation was based on the belief that cataclysmic events would occur on or around 21 December 2012, which was regarded as the end-date of a 5,126-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. But 2013 rolled in putting an end to yet another prediction of the end of the world with nothing more disastrous than egg on a lot of faces. So is the world ever going to end? The answer is a definitive yes, but when that happens is up to God, not to Mayans or tin pot dictators…
One of the stories we have looked at already is the Parable of the Hidden Treasure. A very short story-—all of one sentence long—it told the tale of a man who accidentally found treasure when digging in a field. Recognizing its immense value, he sold everything he had to possess it. In this Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, which immediately follows the other one, a man finds treasure of another kind: a pearl. However, he doesn’t discover it by accident as the other man did; he goes in search of it. The end result is the same. Recognizing…
A recent demographic survey conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that Christianity is in decline, and Christians are dwindling in number so rapidly it won’t be long before they are a minority in almost every nation in the world, with perhaps the exception of sub-Saharan Africa. We can see the evidence of this around us as churches are emptying at an alarming rate, with only the elderly still faithful in attending services regularly in many countries, necessitating the sale of church buildings and the liquidation of assets. So is this the beginning of the end? Not if you believe Jesus…
No sooner was Jesus done speaking about wheat and weeds, he launched into another parable about a mustard seed, saying that it was the smallest of all seeds, but when it grew it became the greatest of all shrubs. The first thing that people who know such things might think is that the mustard seed is by no means the smallest seed there is. That honor belongs to the seeds of tropical orchids that weigh just 10 billionths of an ounce! And when mustard seeds grow, the plants usually attain a height of about four or five feet, which by…
And then Jesus told yet another parable, the parable of the yeast (or leaven; yeast hadn’t been discovered yet!), which seemed to be targeted at the women in his audience just as the previous parable was targeted at the men.  First a quick class on baking bread. There were two types of bread: unleavened and leavened. The former was flat bread, very much like the rotis so popular in various parts of the world. The latter was lighter and fluffier, because of the inclusion of yeast in the mix. This is a practice still followed today by those who bake…
Several years ago I heard a story told by a pastor of a prostitute he happened to meet. She was so weighed down by life’s challenges she was contemplating suicide. After the pastor heard her out, he encouraged her as best he could before inviting her to come to church that Sunday. “Why would I want to do that?” she asked him. “I feel depressed enough already.” The pastor felt very saddened because he understood why the woman said that. If she had accepted his invitation, she would probably have walked into a reception of open contempt and condemnation rather…
Imagine, if you will, that you are a priest who walks into church one day to find a strange man standing at the pulpit spouting a philosophy that is antithetical to the things that you believe in, and working some pretty awesome miracles while he is at it. What would you do? Chances are that you will be more outraged than enamored, miracles notwithstanding, and ask the man, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Not surprising then that the Pharisees asked Jesus the same question one day when he was preaching in…
A young man who worked in his father’s shop caught an employee stealing. He went to his father, told him the story, and asked: “What should we do with the fellow?” “Give him a raise,” his father replied. “A raise?” his son asked in astonishment. “If he was stealing, it means he’s not earning enough,” the father explained. I am sure that you were expecting the thief to be punished, not rewarded, for stealing, just as the young son in the story undoubtedly was. But the father’s sensitivity to the situation, and his understanding of how it should be handled…
In a bad world steadily going worse one always wonders whether there ever will be an end to the bloodshed, the violence, the crime, and the corruption, and whether the wicked will ever be punished or go free as they often seem to do in the world. Well, there will be an end, and there will be a reckoning, and Jesus speaks about this in another parable he told about the end days. To be found only in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and…
The parables that Jesus told were often puzzling, forcing his audience to think deeply about what he was saying to decipher them. So, it comes as a welcome relief when he begins this Parable of the Unjust Judge by telling his listeners exactly what it is all about: the “need to pray always and not to lose heart.”  It may appear that Jesus is contradicting himself, given things he has said elsewhere about prayer. On one occasion he said: “So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours”…