Subject: ‘Parables’

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The parable of the party guests who gave excuses

Posted in Bible, Parables, Religion on Saturday, 16 February 2013

This edited article about the Bible originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 137 published on 29 August 1964.

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Christ telling a parable to his disciples by Ambrose Dudley

Jesus once told a story which was full of keen observation, and had a touch of humour, but at the same time carried a warning for the many so-called religious people of his day who ignored the invitation to accept his message.

The story was about a certain man who planned to give a big dinner-party. He chose the menu with care, and ordered the food well in advance. He gave detailed instructions to the cook, and hired extra waiters for the day of the party.

Invitations were sent out in plenty of time. These were not in writing, but as was the custom in those days, they were conveyed by a messenger who called at each home and gave the invitation by word of mouth.

At last the great day came. The man who was giving the party took a final look at the gaily-decorated rooms and well-laden trays of food, inspected the servants, then sent his messengers round the district to say, “Everything is now ready; will you please come to the dinner?”

After a while the messengers began to return one by one. “Well, are my guests on the way?” said the host genially.

The first messenger coughed apologetically. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said, “Mr. Samuel sends his apologies. He quite forgot that he had an appointment with his lawyer. The matter was urgent – something to do with a piece of land he has bought, I believe. He says he is sure you will understand.”

The host was clearly disappointed, but doubtless felt that one guest would hardly be missed at such a large party.

“Excuse me, sir.” Another messenger had come up to the host. “Mr. Joseph presents his compliments and regrets that pressing business matters prevent him from coming tonight.”

Another promise broken. . . . A third servant approached. “Well, have you an apology, too?” snapped the host.

“Well, perhaps not so much an apology as an explanation,” the man replied. “Mr. Jones is away from home. As a matter of fact” – he whispered – “he is on his honeymoon. It would have been too much to expect him to leave his wife, even for this splendid occasion.”

One by one the other servants all came in with similar excuses. It was clear that not a single guest was coming.

The host’s disappointment turned to anger, yet mingled with his anger was the knowledge that there were plenty of hungry people who would be glad of such a supper. Let his fine friends do without, then. He would invite those who would appreciate his hospitality.

“Go out into the streets,” he ordered, “and bring here all the poor and crippled people, and anyone who is blind or lame. Fill my house with them. They shall take the place of those who scorned my invitation.”

Perhaps the hearers who claimed to be so religious remembered that they had scorned Jesus for eating with the poor and needy. Now they began to wonder if they had been as ungrateful as those who in his story had ignored the invitation.

The parable of the unforgiving servant

Posted in Bible, Parables, Religion on Friday, 15 February 2013

This edited article about the Bible originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 135 published on 15 August 1964.

unforgiving servant, picture, image, illustration

The parable of the unforgiving servant by Clive Uptton

“How many times must I forgive the person who does me an injury?” said Peter one day to Jesus. “Seven times?”

“No, not seven times – seventy times seven,” Jesus replied, meaning, of course, not that a person was to be forgiven 490 times, but that there must be no limit to the readiness of his followers to forgive.

Jesus went on to tell a story about forgiveness. There was, he told his hearers, a certain King who had been very helpful to some of his personal servants. He had made them generous loans for various purposes; one had wanted to buy a house, another wanted to go into business, and among them all the King had laid out a great deal of money.

One day he decided to have a full account made of all that these men owed him, and to ask them to settle their debts. One man in particular worried the King; he had borrowed a thousand pounds, but had never offered to pay any of it back. This was the first man sent for.

He came in very unwillingly, and before the king had so much as a chance to ask a question, burst out with a most pitiful story of his misfortunes. Business was bad. Other people had let him down. Some had cheated him.

“Only give me more time, your majesty,” he pleaded, “and I will pay you every penny, I promise.”

The King was not a harsh man, and after hearing this tale of woe he felt that there was only one thing he could do.

“I can see how you have tried,” he said to the debtor, “but however hard you work I doubt if you could ever pay off what you owe me. So to relieve you, we will forget the debt and make a fresh start. You may go free; the debt is cancelled.”

Scarcely believing his ears, the bewildered debtor stammered out his gratitude, then left the King’s presence as quickly as he could, to tell his family the good news.

On his way home the servant met a very poor neighbour who owed him a few shillings. The memory of his own hard times suddenly came back to him, and seizing the neighbour by the throat he snarled, “What about the money you owe me? Pay it now, or I shall have you arrested.”

The neighbour could not pay. Forgetting the King’s generosity, the servant had the man arrested on the spot and thrown into prison.

The incident, however, came to the King’s ears. Sending again for his servant, he said, “Look, I forgave you all that you owed me. The least you could have done was to forgive your neighbour this trifling sum. Since you have sent him to prison, you shall share the same fate, until your debt to me is also paid.”

When they heard this story no doubt the disciples remembered some of the best known words of Jesus, from the prayer which he had taught them: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.”

‘You can’t take it with you’ – the parable of the Rich Fool

Posted in Bible, Parables, Religion on Wednesday, 13 February 2013

This edited article about the Bible originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 133 published on 1 August 1964.

Death and the Jew, picture, image, illustration

An engraving of an episode from the ‘Dance of Death’, painted in 1441

Jesus once told His hearers of a man whose career seemed to be a real “success story.” We do not know his name, nor how his career began, but we learn that when he was not much more than middle-aged he was already a prosperous land-owner.

One day he was walking round his estate, planning what alterations and improvements were needed. Everywhere his employees were busy with new developments. Wells were being dug, lambs and calves sent off to market, fences being set up around the growing crops.

Although the harvest was still several months away, it was clear that more of his ground was under cultivation than ever before, and that everything pointed to record crops when the time came.

“I doubt whether we shall have room to store all this grain in the present buildings, sir,” said one of the assistants who was following the owner respectfully round the fields. “Even last year we only just found room for it all. Really the barns are no longer big enough.”

“Then we must have bigger ones!” answered the owner with a laugh.

“Do you mean to build on to the old ones, sir? There would easily be time for that before the harvest.”

“No, I don’t mean that at all,” replied the owner gaily. “I mean to pull the old barns down, and build new ones. Barns so big that they will hold even larger harvests than this one. If we start right away we can have them ready by harvest time. Yes, that is what we must do, and we shall start first thing in the morning.”

On his way home the wealthy and ambitious landowner felt very pleased with his scheme.

“The way things are going will mean I can store up several years’ supplies,” he said to himself. “That means I can afford to retire. From now on life will be easy. I can look forward to years and years of leisure, with nothing to do but enjoy myself.”

Perhaps it was to be expected that he would eat and drink rather too freely that night. Many friends joined him at supper, and congratulated him on the big development scheme that he had planned.

When he finally went to bed he was unusually tired, and felt a little strange. This was nothing to worry about, he thought, just over-excitement. Even a brief spasm of pain did not alarm him.

When the servants came to call their master next morning he failed to answer. Eventually they entered his room, and found him dead. Rough plans of the new buildings lay on the floor. So preoccupied had he been with these, that he forgot the fact that his life was a gift from God, and that God sometimes calls people back to Himself when they are least ready, and least expect His summons.

The prodigal son had a contemptuous older brother

Posted in Bible, Parables, Religion on Monday, 11 February 2013

This edited article about the Bible originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 129 published on 4 July 1964.

The prodigal son, picture, image, illustration

In this Biblical illustration the resentful older brother looks on as his father greets the prodigal son

When that rather reckless young man who became known to history as the Prodigal Son came home, he was forgiven by his father and given a great welcome.

A calf, which was being fattened up for another celebration, was prepared as the main dish for this homecoming, musicians were sent for from the village, and the somewhat bewildered young man who had expected nothing but disgrace and criticism found himself, if not the hero of the hour, at least the guest of honour.

Even if the neighbours were unable to congratulate the son on his achievements, they were glad to rejoice with the father on his son’s return in a better frame of mind.

Now the Prodigal Son had an older brother, who was quite a different sort of person. Steady, reliable, perhaps a little lacking in enterprise and imagination, he was so regular in his habits that you could have set a clock by his coming and going. Not that he ever went far. He had always been quite content to stay at home, working for his father, and never venturing beyond the village and the nearest market.

He was not a great party-goer either, and when he came in at the main entrance of the house on this particular day (exactly at sundown, as usual) he was surprised, and a little annoyed, to hear the sound of music and the laughter of a crowd of visitors. He decided not to go in, but to find out what was going on, so he called one of the servants who happened to be passing and asked him what all the noise was about.

The man looked astonished. “Haven’t you heard, sir?” he answered. “Your brother is home. He arrived this morning unexpectedly.”

“My brother! That rascal! Must we have a party for him? He ought to be locked up!”

“Sorry, sir, but these are your father’s orders. He ran to meet your brother and ordered the celebrations,” replied the servant.

“Well, just tell my father that I have no intention of coming,” answered the elder brother.

No doubt the servant conveyed this message as tactfully as he could. Even so, the father guessed what was wrong. A man of endless patience and understanding, who loved both his sons, he left his guests and came out himself to where his elder son stood sulking.

The son was determined to enjoy his grievance. “I have slaved for you all these years, father,” he said, “and you never threw a party for me. But as soon as this brother of mine turns up you make a fuss of him.”

The patient father answered him gently. “My son, I know how you feel. Just remember that you are always welcome, and that everything here will belong to you one day. But he is still my son and your brother; it is like someone coming back from the dead. We cannot help rejoicing.”

In the end, no doubt, the elder brother joined the party, too.

The return of the Prodigal Son

Posted in Bible, Parables, Religion on Monday, 11 February 2013

This edited article about the Bible originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 128 published on 27 June 1964.

Prodigal son, picture, image, illustration

The return of the prodigal son

One of the most memorable stories ever told by Jesus was on the subject of what happened to a boy who left home. The boy had not been unhappy, but was restless and eager to see the world. His father was rich, and one day the boy said to him, “Father, I know you have left me a generous legacy in your will. But it would be much more use to me now than after you are dead. Do you think I could have my share right away?”

Thinking the matter over, the father came to the conclusion that it might content this restless son of his to have some money to manage, so he arranged for a very generous sum to be handed over to him.

The gift did not have the effect intended. Far from helping the son to settle down, it made him more eager to go off on his travels, and within a few days he had prepared for a long absence, and set out for a distant city in search of excitement.

For many months little was heard of the young man. Only rumours and gossip reached his anxious father, and these were very disturbing. He was, it was said, spending much more money than he could afford, and wasting his time in the very worst company that he could have found.

These rumours were true enough. So long as the young man had money to spend, there were plenty of young city folk who were willing to call themselves his friends and help him spend it. Only when his money was all gone did he find how worthless and short-lived their friendship was.

To make matters worse, the harvest failed that year, and the price of everything rose. It became difficult to get work, and the once wealthy adventurer now found himself a penniless refugee. He got a temporary job keeping pigs, and it was while he was watching them feed so busily that, half-starved as he was, he realized how rash and foolish he had been.

It was then that he decided to go home, and ask his father to take him on as a servant, since he no longer deserved to be called his son.

The father had never given up hope of his son’s return. Day after day he would go up to the rooftop and look anxiously along the road by which he had left. On the day that he did come back the father did not recognize the thin and bedraggled figure at first, but when he did so, he ran eagerly to meet him. He did not wait for explanations. He broke into his son’s carefully prepared apologies.

“Quickly!” he called to the servants, “A new suit! Some shoes! The family signet ring! Get a meal ready! We must celebrate tonight. My lost son is found; once as good as dead, he is alive again.”

The entire household rejoiced over his return – the entire household, that is, except for one person.

The Parable of the Talents

Posted in Bible, Parables, Religion on Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The parable of the talents is a powerful illustration of the dire consequence of life’s wasted and lost opportunities to make the most of what we have been given. Although its imagery centres on money, the lesson Jesus imparts in telling this parable applies to many aspects of human experience.

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The master casts out the servant and takes back his talent, by Clive Uptton

A master is going away for a while, and calls his three servants to whom he entrusts his wealth: he gives the first five talents, the second two talents, and the third a single talent. The master then leaves his house and goes on his journey. After he has gone time passes and the first servant increases his talents by trading with the first five; the second servant also adds to his original two; but the third servant buries his one talent and leaves it in the safety and obscurity of the earth. When the master returns he asks after his servants and what they have done with their talents and his property. The first two tell him of their hard work, risk-taking and consequent rewards of doubling the original sum, but the third man simply states that he had buried his one talent for fear of losing it. On hearing this his master is extremely angry, and after rewarding the other two with promotion, turns his rage on this “wicked and slothful servant”, taking away his talent and punishing him:

“For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” (Matthew 25: 29)

Many more pictures relating to parables in the Bible can be found at the Look and Learn picture library. Click on the link or picture to find out more about licensing images for commercial and educational use.

The Return of the Prodigal Son – a parable

Posted in Bible, Parables, Religion on Friday, 11 February 2011

This is perhaps the most touching of all the parables of Jesus. It  contains the powerful sentiment of reconciliation, the misery of self-loathing and the resentment and jealousy between siblings. It is a tale of forgiveness and redemption. A man has two sons, the younger of which asks for his share of their inheritance so he can make his way in the world. He is given the money, a small fortune, which he squanders in the dissolute city, consorting with prostitutes and rogues. He loses everything and becomes a swineherd. When misery reduces him to abject self-pity even to the depths of envying his snorting pigs, he realises he will have to abandon any vestigial pride and return home.

prodigal son, picture, image, illustration

The father sees his prodigal son and runs to greet him

This he does, and when his father sees him coming from afar, he runs to greet him with great emotion. A rich robe and  new sandals, along with the slaying of the proverbial fatted calf; all mark the father’s celebration and boundless welcome. The elder brother hears the tumult while out in the fields, and makes his complaint known when he arrives back home. He has devoted himself to virtue and hard work, for not even a goat to be given to him and his friends by his father. But the father remonstrates with a simple but profound observation, central to the teachings of Christ:

“Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found” (Luke 15: 31-32).

Many more pictures relating to parables and the Bible can be found at the Look and Learn picture library. Click on the link or picture to find out more about licensing images for commercial and educational use.

The wicked husbandmen – a parable

Posted in Bible, Parables, Religion on Wednesday, 9 February 2011

A series of very unlikely events takes place in a rich man’s vineyard leased out to several husbandmen. There is violence, disloyalty and a clear attempt by the workers to take over the flourishing vineyard and its fine produce. Jesus uses his tremendous gift for taking an apparently ordinary situation and exaggerating certain elements until the listener’s expectations are confounded and a fresh interpretation of the spiritual life and God’s intentions unfolds.

Rich man, picture, image, illustration

The servant tells his master that the workers have attacked him

The rich man returns from his travels and sends a servant for his dues. One man is beaten up, another stoned, another killed; he sends others and the same thing happens. So he decides to send his son, thinking these tenants will surely be on their best behaviour in that case, and show him due respect. But the tenants see him as the heir apparent to the vineyard, and they kill him in order to take his inheritance for themselves. Jesus asks his followers what the rich man should now do to those wicked men, and the import of the answer is simple: “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matthew 21: 43). The slain son represents, of course, Jesus himself.

Many more pictures relating to parables and the Bible can be found at the Look and Learn picture library. Click on the link or picture to find out more about licensing images for commercial and educational use.

The Wedding Feast – a parable

Posted in Bible, Parables, Religion on Sunday, 6 February 2011

wedding feast, picture, image, illustration

The wrongly dressed guest at the wedding feast is seized

This parable has simple and complex strands which bring together themes about the chosen and the unworthy to be chosen. It is a somewhat exaggerated tale of a king who gives a wedding feast for his son to which the appropriate people are invited, all of whom let him down one way or another. He sends his servants to remind and encourage them, but they are beaten and murdered by the ingrates. So incensed is he that he has their killers tracked down and put to death, and is not satisfied until he has burned down their city with his army. He the sends out other servants to gather people from the highways, and bring them as invited guests to his feast. This happens, and all is well until the king notices one man not wearing wedding clothes. He has him bound and taken away, thrown “into the outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called but few are chosen” (Matthew 22: 13-14).

Many more pictures relating to Christ’s parables and the Bible can be found at the Look and Learn picture library. Click on the link or picture to find out more about licensing images for commercial and educational use.

The parable of the sower

Posted in Bible, Parables, Religion on Sunday, 30 January 2011

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Sowing seed on the path, among thorns, on rocky ground and fertile soil, by Clive Uptton

Jesus told several parables, some more complicated than others. The parable of the sower is simple in narrative detail and the message it clothes. When a farmer sows seed on inappropriate terrain the results are predictable, whether the plants wither for lack of soil or choke to death among thorny weeds. Only when the soil is good does the farmer see a decent crop, and this multiplies with each harvest. The seed is the Word in its various stages of understanding and acceptance, be it one of shallowness or one of deeply rooted vitality yielding rich and plentiful fruit. In the gospel of St Matthew, the poor birds which take the seed from the road are likened to the devil confounding potential believers.

Many more pictures relating to the parables and the Bible can be found at the Look and Learn picture library. Click on the link or picture to find out more about licensing images for commercial and educational use.