Bartolome Esteban Murillo - The Return of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), Seville, Spain, 1670, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.


With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand.
He did not say anything to them without using a parable.
But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
Gospel of Mark 4:33-34

Jesus often taught in parables, an ancient Eastern literary genre. The prophet Ezekiel, for example, wrote in parables, such as the eagles and the vine (17:1-24) and the parable of the pot (24:1-14). The word parable in Hebrew מָשָׁל - mashal - is present in both vignettes (17:2 and 24:3).

A parable is a story about a familiar subject to teach an important moral lesson. The root meaning of the word parable means a placing side by side for the sake of comparison. The Gospel writer generally identifies a narrative with a spiritual meaning by specifically calling the lesson a παραβολή or parable. At times the Gospel writer begins the story with the word like, as "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard" (Matthew 20:1). Or Jesus may give an example from everyday life to convey a spiritual truth, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan to teach love and mercy, or the Parable of the Friend at Midnight to teach persistence in prayer.

A parable envisions the whole narrative to generate the spiritual message, whereas a proverb, metaphor, simile, or figure of speech focuses generally on a word, phrase or sentence.

The Parables of Jesus are recorded in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Some parables are common to all three Synoptic Gospels, such as the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-23, Mark 4:2-20, and Luke 8:4-15). Matthew relates ten Parables on the Kingdom of Heaven, seven of which occur in Chapter 13 and are central to his Gospel. Examples of parables unique to Matthew are the Weeds Among the Wheat (Matthew 13:24-30), the Unforgiving Servant (18:23-35), the Laborers in the Vineyard (20:1-16), the Two Sons (21:28-32), and the Ten Virgins (25:1-13). Mark has only one unique Parable, the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29). Several Parables are unique to Luke, such as the Parables of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the Friend at Midnight (11:5-13), the Rich Fool (12:13-21), the Barren Fig Tree (13:6-9), the Invited Guests (14:7-14), the Lost Coin (15:8-10), the Prodigal Son (15:11-32), Lazarus and the Rich Man (16:19-31), the Persistent Widow (18:1-8), and the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (18:9-14).

The word parable does not appear in the Gospel of John. The related word παροιμιαν (figure of speech) appears in 10:6 and refers to the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18). Jesus, by calling himself the Good Shepherd, recalls the imagery of Psalm 23, "The Lord is my Shepherd," and the Prophets (Isaiah 40:1-11, Jeremiah 23:1-8, Ezekiel 34). By doing so, he fulfills Old Testament prophecy as he identifies himself as the Messiah. The word παροιμίαν also appears in John 16:25 and provides insight into the message of Jesus: "I have spoken to you in figures of speech; the hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in figures of speech, but tell you plainly of the Father."

The following chart lists important parables of Jesus Christ.
This list primarily includes those parables specifically named as such by either Matthew, Mark, or Luke.

The Lamp 5:14-16 4:21-25 8:16-18
The Speck and The Log 7:1-5 6:37-42
New Cloth on Old Garment 9:16-17 2:21-22 5:36-39
The Divided Kingdom 12:24-30 3:23-27 11:14-23
The Sower 13:1-23 4:1-20 8:4-15
The Growing Seed 4:26-29
The Good Samaritan 10:29-37
The Friend at Midnight 11:5-13
The Rich Fool 12:13-21
The Barren Fig Tree 13:6-9
The Weeds Among the Wheat 13:24-30
The Mustard Seed 13:31-32 4:30-34 13:18-19
The Leaven 13:33-34 13:20-21
Hidden Treasure 13:44
Pearl of Great Price 13:45-46
The Net 13:47-50
The Invited Guests 14:7-14
The Heart of Man 15:10-20 7:14-23
The Lost Sheep 18:10-14 15:1-7
The Lost Coin 15:8-10
The Prodigal Son 15:11-32
The Rich Man and Lazarus 16:19-31
The Persistent Widow 18:1-8
The Pharisee and The Publican 18:9-14
The Unforgiving Servant 18:23-35
Laborers in the Vineyard 20:1-16
The Two Sons 21:28-32
The Tenant Farmers 21:33-45 12:1-12 20:9-19
Marriage Feast or Great Banquet 22:1-14 14:15-24
The Budding Fig Tree 24:32-35 13:28-33 21:29-33
The Faithful vs. The Wicked Servant 24:45-51 13:34-37 12:35-48
The Ten Virgins 25:1-13
Ten Talents or Gold Coins 25:14-30 19:11-27

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) is a wonderful example of a narrative that provides spiritual guidance. Jesus gives the greatest commandment in Luke 10:27 - "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" He is then asked, "who is my neighbor?" Jesus answers with the parable by comparing the response of a Levite, a priest, and a Samaritan to a beaten man lying on the side of a road. The contrast is unsettling, for the Samaritans were generally despised in Jewish culture at the time. Whereas the Levite and priest were concerned about the ritual purity of the Old Covenant, ironically it was the Samaritan who was compassionate and hospitable to the injured man, extending the concept of love of neighbor for the New Covenant. The moral sense of the parable is to be loving and merciful as the Good Samaritan. Jesus instructs his listeners: "Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37). The Parable of the Good Samaritan provides a sound basis for social justice.


Vincent Van Gogh - The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), Amsterdam, 1890.