1. Which Gospel includes the most parables?
2. Which Gospel includes the fewest parables?
3. How many parables are there in the gospels?
4. What have mustard seeds got to do with the kingdom of God?
5. What has yeast got to do with the kingdom of God?
6. What is a Pearl of Great Price in the Bible?
7. Why was the Samaritan good?
8. Are sheep better than goats?
9. Should we always try to pull weeds out of our gardens?
10. Why do we pray?
John’s gospel, being written later and for a much more educated audience, retells Jesus’ teaching in many long sermons without parables. But the other gospels include parables as the primary teaching tool, with Luke containing slightly more examples than Matthew, and Mark containing fewest. It seems likely that Jesus had a wealth of stories that he used in teaching, and differences in detail or emphasis between stories probably represent different times that the same story was used.
Parables were a common form of teaching, but Jesus told his disciples he spoke in parables so those who have (the truth) would obtain more while others would fail to understand. Similarly, he keeps his identity as Messiah, and even healer, quiet in his early ministry. His ministry was based far more on individuals coming to the truth than on a mob mentality; his teaching required quiet thought and comprehension rather than the shouting of a mob demanding their own interpretations.
Some stories show the Kingdom of God growing from small beginnings (mustard seed, leaven.) Others are meant to portray its great value (the hidden treasure, the pearl). It is something that we’re meant to share with our neighbors (lamp under a bushel, new cloth or wineskin on old, sower. It’s an undeserved gift (workers in the vineyard, wicked tenants). It’s a joy and a commitment (wedding feast, wedding garment, place of honor at table), and a serious responsibility (talents, sheep and goats). Loss and redemption are portrayed through stories of the lost sheep, lost coin, lost (or “prodigal”) son. The faithful servant and the ten virgins remind us to be prepared. The tares (weeds), rich fool, budding tree and barren tree warn us of times to come. Forgiveness is illustrated by the unforgiving servant (who failed to forgive his neighbor though his master had forgiven him: he was thrown in jail by his master). Mercy appears in the story of the Good Samaritan (who actually shows mercy to someone he’d be expected to despise, while the man’s supposed neighbors leave him to suffer). Prayer is illustrated by the importunate friend at night, by the persistent widow, and by the Pharisee and tax-collector.
Some lists of parables only include complete stories (with a beginning, a middle and an end). Others include short sayings as well, giving a total of between 33 and 60 parables in all. In Matthew, most of the general parables appear in chapter 13. A group of short illustrations appear in chapter 7 (with one in chapter 5). Chapter 18 includes stories of God’s and man’s forgiveness. In chapter 20, Jesus begins to teach about his death with the story of the servants in the vineyard, and in 21 he begins his final public teaching and call to redemption, leading up to end-times parables in chapter 25. Mark, being shorter, includes fewer stories, mostly in chapters 2 and 4, with Jesus’ final teaching in chapters 12 and 13. Luke includes many parables not found in the other two gospels—presumably, since he wasn’t present, his stories are based on other people’s recollections rather than just the stories that most influenced the disciples. Most of Luke’s parables are found in chapters 10 through 21.
As is clear from Jesus repeated use of the same stories, and from his explanation of the parable of the sower, it is possible to assign meaning to lots of different elements of a story, but it’s not necessary to insist that every element have meaning; each story is told to emphasize a single, major point.