Parables - Symbolic Stories Told by Jesus in Order to Teach Messages

Parables - Symbolic Stories Told by Jesus in Order to Teach Messages

Parables Notes

Parables - Symbolic stories told by Jesus in order to teach messages.

- The stories are filled with symbolism. The characters and events represent people and events in real life.

2 Things that make a story a parable:

1) Symbolism

2) Messages

When reading parables, it's important to look at

1) Context, in particular who Jesus is telling the story to.

2) The details and what exactly happens in the story.

3) Using the details, try to figure out the symbolism of the story, looking at who and what the characters and events represent.

4) Use the symbolism to figure out the messages and how people inmodern times act like the characters in the story.

Parable of the Great Feast (Luke 14:1-24)

Background: Jesus told this story to a group of Pharisees who invited him to a dinner.

  • They were arguing over who was most important and would sit at the best seats at the table
  • In Jesus’ time, who you ate with at meals was very important.
  • People were often judged and associated with the people they dined with.

Symbolism in the Parable of the Great Feast


- Invites guests to his feast. When they decline he extends the offer to people who are vulnerable

- Symbolism: God who invites people to accept him in their lives


- People are invited to celebrate at the feast.

- Symbolism: Heaven or God's Grace


- Is sent by the King to deliver the invitation to the people

- Symbolism: Jesus and other people (prophets) sent to bring us God’s love and message of peace and salvation.

3 Guests

- First group offered to attend the feast but decline for various reasons

- People who refuse God in their lives (can mean all of us at different times)

The Vulnerable - Poor/Sick/Blind/Lame

- Suffering people who accept the invitation to the feast.

- Vulnerable or suffering people who know that they need God in their lives and accept him.


1.God wants to be a part of every person’s life, but he will not force people to accept him. It's up to us to accept God's love.

2.There are many distractions that make it difficult for people to focus on God. Even good things or people can bring us away from God if we don’t understand them or treat them correctly.

3.Sometimes people who are poor and suffering develop a stronger relationship with God than people who don’t have any big problems. Experiencesof suffering can help us to turn to God for help and trust

more in him. They are not always bad things. Even in the worst situations we can always find God.

4. We are called by God to help the people who are in the most needand are suffering.

Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)


  • A scholar of the Law (Pharisee) tries to trap and confuse Jesus by asking him a trick question about which is the greatest commandment
  • The Jewish people had strict rules about worshipping God at Temple. A person was not permitted to go to the Temple if they were unclean.
  • The Jewish people of Israel looked at Samaritans as if they were 2nd class citizens. Although they were also Jewish, Samaritans historically had issues with Israel and there was much tension between the groups.

Character Details

Injured Man

- Gets attacked, seriously injured and left for dead in the beginning of the story.

Priest and Levite

- Religious officials who pass by the injured man so they can attend services at the Temple.

Good Samaritan

- "2nd class citizen" who stops and helps the injured man and continues to provide for him.


- Accepts the injured man into the inn and agrees to help the man recover.


Injured Man

- People who are vulnerable and are suffering. This may not just be from physical harm but for a variety of reasons.


- People who claim to be religious but care more about following the rules then they actually do about others. Priorities are mixed up and are hypocrites.

Good Samaritan

- People who may be looked down upon by others for various reasons based on things like social status, background, ethnicity, religion, etc... but are actually good people based on their actions.


- People who are willing to help others even when it is inconvenient for them.


1) "Loving God with all your mind, soul, heart and strength" is the same thing as "loving your neighbor as yourself." You can't treat God one way and other people another way otherwise you're not really caring for God.

2) The purpose of religious rules and laws is to help people more caring of others. These rules should not take the place of caring for others.

3) Sometimes people who are thought to be inferior based on social status are the ones who turn out to be very good. Don't define or judge people based on their status or background.

4) Your neighbor refers to any person. It is especially important to care for others even who you don't know or may be enemies with. Love is also not limited by convenience. You should be able to help someone even if it doesn't fit into your schedule.

Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

(Matthew 18:21-35)

Background: The story is a response to a question that Jesus’ disciple Peter asks, "How often must I forgive someone?"

Symbolism and Messages


- Represents sins committed against another person or God

King – Forgives the first servant of his debt.

- Represents God who is all forgiving.

Servant #1 – Owes the king a very large debt but begs him to be excused. After the king lets him off, he goes to his servant who owes him money but does not excuse him of his debt and throws him into jail.

- Represents people who want forgiveness when they do something wrong, but are unwilling to forgive others when they have been offended = hypocrites

Servant #2 – Owes servant 1 a smaller debt but isn’t forgiven and is thrown into jail.

- Represents people who aren't forgiven by others even when they are sorry.

Message: Always be willing to forgive others when they are sorry as God does. If God is willing to always forgive you no matter how badly you have sinned against him than you should do the same for others.

Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

(Luke 18:9-14)

Jesus addresses this story to the Pharisees. What do you know about the Pharisees?

  • They are of the higher class in Jewish society.
  • They strictly followed the religious rules and laws.
  • Many people looked up to them as good people and being favored by God.
  • Had a tendency to look down on others and judge them.

How each character worships in the story:

A) Pharisee:

  • Praises himself and thanks God for being better than the other sinners - Pride.
  • Brags about fasting and donating money to the Church.
  • Prays very loudly and is showing off to the other people

B) Tax Collector:

  • Genuinely prays to God for forgiveness and admits his sins.
  • Prays very quietly to himself in the corner
  • Demonstrates the virtue of humility

Symbolism and Messages


  • People who are self-righteous and believe that just because they follow religious laws and practices they are better than others.
  • Hypocrites who don't really have strong faith and don't care for others
  • People who may not have committed many sins but aren't truly dedicated to their faith. It is shallow because they don't truly care for others

Tax Collector

  • People are truly humble and dedicated to their faith.
  • Although they may have committed many sins, they are honestly seeking forgiveness.

Message: Jesus says that it is better to be like the Tax Collector than the Pharisees. Although most people thought that the Pharisees were good and tried to be like them, Jesus showed that their attitude was sinful because many were full of pride and judged others. Although many of the tax collectors committed serious sins in their lives, they recognized their mistakes and were serious and humble in asking God for forgiveness and trying to become better people.

Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32)

Context: Jesus is being questioned by the Pharisees about his authority. He tells the story as a response to show them what it means to have faith.


- Asks his sons to go work in the vineyard.

- Represents God who gives us a calling or purpose in life.

First Son

- Tells the father yes but doesn't do the work

- Represents hypocrites and people who say that they have faith but don't actually live it out.

Second Son

- Tells the father no but later does do the work

- Represents people who were sinful but eventually had real faith and lived good lives.

Message: Actions speak louder than words. Real faith is lived and shown through actions.

Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

Context: Jesus is now in Jerusalem and is speaking to his disciples giving the most important messages about faith. These are his last teachings before he is arrested.



- Gives people different amounts of talents (money)

- Expects his servants to use their talents wisely to make more.

First two servants

- Receive 5 and 2 talents

- Invest their talents and make more. They are given greater responsibilities by their master.

Third servant

- receives 1 talent

- Buries the talent and has it taken away by the master.

Symbolism and Messages


- Represents God who gives everyone different gifts and abilities and expects us to use them for good.


- Are God-given abilities and gifts

Servants 1 and 2

- Represent people who use their gifts for the good of others and develop them.

Servant 3

- Represents people who keep their gifts to themselves and don't use them for good. Why would people do this?


- God gives everyone different abilities and expects us share them.

- Be thankful and satisfied with what you have. If you use and develop your abilities you will increase and improve them.

Parable of the Sower

Sower - represents God who plants his "seeds" in each person

Seeds - God's word or grace

Different kinds of soil - people and how they respond to God's word

Seeds on the path - get eaten up by the birds and don't grow at all

- Represents people who instantly reject God's word and aren't open to him at all.

Seeds on the rocky soil - Start to grow but roots don't take hold and dies out.

- Represents people who accept God's word at first but don't really live it out because it's too challenging. People who are hypocrites.

Seeds by the thorn bushes - Start to grow but eventually get choked out by the thorn bushes.

- Represents people who start to live out their faith but eventually stop because God's word is not a high enough priority and people get distracted with other things.

Seeds in the good soil - Successfully grow and produce much grain.

Represents people who do live out God's word and have faith.

Main messages

- People are called to live out God's word and develop their faith. It should be a real part of a person's life and make a difference.

- People often don't prioritize faith and put up barriers between themselves and God. Faith has to be a priority to be successful.

Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat (Matthew 13:24-30)


Wheat – Symbolizes people who are faithful and live good lives

Weeds – Symbolize people who are unfaithful and sinful

Message: In the story, why doesn’t the farmer decide to pull out the weeds during the harvest? What does this symbolize?

Answer: The sower doesn't want to uproot the wheat with the weeds because if he does, some of the wheat will get pulled out. Jesus is showing that God doesn't remove sinners from the world or get rid of evil, but in the afterlife the two will be separated.

Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46)


Jesus is telling this story which is a prediction of what is going to happen to him – the events surrounding his arrest, trial, death on the cross and Resurrection.


Owner - God who gives us life and tries to help us live good lives

Tenants - Pharisees and people who reject God despite his efforts to help. They literally persecuted and often killed many of God’s people

Servants (Slaves) - People sent by God like prophets to help the people understand God's messages. Sometimes they preached a very difficult message that the community did not accept.

Son - Jesus who was sent as the ultimate gift of God to show us how to live, but he is also rejected and persecuted.

Message: At the end of the story Jesus asks the Pharisees what they would do if they were the owner of the vineyard. They say that they would kill or imprison the tenants for being sinful. He then points out to them that they are acting exactly like the tenants in the story and are admitting to their own sins. Jesus then explains that they are the ones who are rejecting God and will eventually kill him.