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 is present in both vignettes (17:2 and 24:3). A parable is a story that presents comparisons to teach an important moral lesson. The root meaning of the word parable means a placing side by side for the sake of comparison. 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 Gospel writer 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 term ὃμοιος or like, as "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard" (Matthew 20:1).

The Parables 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 each Gospel are the Weeds Among the Wheat (Matthew 13:24-30) and the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), and 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 Rich Fool (12:13-21), the Invited Guests (14:7-14), 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 the important parables of Jesus Christ.
This list primarily includes those parables specifically named as such by a Gospel writer.

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 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 15:1-20 7:1-23
The Lost Sheep 18:10-14 15:1-7
The Unforgiving Servant 18:23-35
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
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
The Great Banquet 22:1-14 14:15-24
The Budding Fig Tree 24:32-35 13:28-33 21:29-33
The Faithful or 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 the Samaritan to a beaten man lying on the side of a road. The moral sense of the parable is to be merciful as the Good Samaritan. Jesus instructs his listeners: "Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37). This Parable provides a sound basis for social justice.


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