Parables, or Stories
E VERY one loves stories, and Jesus, as He taught the people, knew this. So He often wrapped up some special lesson in the form of a story, and hid the beautiful truth deep in its heart. Only those who looked carefully and listened with their hearts as well as their ears, found the hidden meaning of these stories, or parables, as they are called.
It was not the learned and the rich who crowded round most eagerly to listen to the Master's stories. It was to the poor, weary, toilworn people that Jesus loved to speak His comforting words. Many of these people were not at all good; but that was just the reason why they wanted help, and needed to be taught to try and live a whiter, purer life.
It was once when He was among a crowd of these poor, sinful people, who were listening with eager, wistful faces to His words of kindness and hope, that He told the story of the Prodigal Son.
"There was once a father who had two sons," the story began. The elder was hard-working, steady, and obedient, one who never gave his father any trouble, but always did his duty. But the younger was a headstrong, difficult boy, idle and self-willed, fond of pleasure, and determined to have his own way. He did not want to work and earn his own living; he thought he had a perfect right to the money which belonged to his father.
"Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me," he said one day. He could not even wait until at his father's death he would receive his share. No, he wanted it now, and he did not stop to think how such a request must hurt his kind father.
The father knew that it was no use telling him how foolish and wrong he was. The headstrong, selfish boy must learn that lesson another way. So he quietly divided all his money, and gave the younger son his share.
There was nothing now to keep the boy at home. His home and his father meant nothing to him compared to pleasure and adventure. So he set off on a long journey to a far-away country, carrying his money with him.
At first everything was as delightful as he could wish. He had nothing to do from morning till night but to plan how he could best enjoy himself. The companions who gathered round him were ready to flatter him and help him spend his money. The flowery path of pleasure was very pleasant to tread.
But by-and-by everything changed. The gay banquets, the riot of delights, came to an end. All his money was spent. All his friends, as they had called themselves, left him. They had no longer any use for him when he had nothing more to give them.
There he was, all alone, a stranger in a strange land. And how was he to live? He had never learned to do skilled work, and it was not easy to begin to earn his living now. There was a great famine, too, in the land, and food was very scarce. Day by day things grew darker and darker. And at last he was so hungry and so poor that he was thankful to hire himself out as a swineherd, and go into the fields to feed pigs. The wages for that kind of work were very small, not nearly enough to buy him his daily bread; and often as he watched the pigs grubbing amongst their food, he was hungry enough to envy them, and to wish he could have a share of the husks upon which they fed.
Thoughts of home now began to haunt him. How kind and patient his father had been. What a comfortable, happy place home seemed, looking back upon it now. The very servants there were better fed, and not so hard-worked as he was.
And then suddenly one day, when these thoughts were crowding in upon him, he saw quite clearly, as if by a sudden flash of light, how wrong and foolish he had been from the very beginning. Out there in the fields, while the pigs grunted and fed around him, and there was no one to listen to him, he cried out loud the new thought that had come into his mind: "I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants."
It was not an easy thing to go humbly back, to say he had been wrong and ask for forgiveness, but it was the only way. And day by day the longing to see his father, and to tell him how sorry he was, grew stronger and stronger. He was ready to suffer any punishment, if only he might live at home again.
It was a long journey, but at last the poor, hungry, ragged boy came within sight of home. It was time now to take his courage in both hands, and go to meet his father.
But while he was still a long way off his father saw him. Perhaps he had been watching for that return, feeling sure that some day his boy would come back. He did not wait now for him to come humbly to the door. His heart was so full of pity and love that he ran out to meet him, and before the boy could say a word his father's arms were round him, and he felt his father's kiss of forgiveness and welcome.
"Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son," the words came from the boy's trembling lips. He was more ashamed now than ever. But the father did not even talk of forgiveness; that was too well understood.
"Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him," he commanded the servants; "and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found."
So there was feasting and rejoicing, and only the elder brother was vexed and angry. He did not like to see his wasteful, undutiful brother welcomed back into the home; he thought he deserved to be punished, and that the reward should have been given to the one who had stayed at home and done his duty.
Looking round upon the listening faces, Jesus, as He finished the story, saw many of His Father's poor, sinful children, who had been just as wicked and foolish as that younger son. He longed for them to know that their Father in Heaven was as pitiful and ready to forgive them as was the father in the story, even though the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees would have them punished as they deserved.
Those clever lawyers and priests who so carefully kept the law needed their lesson too, and it was to one of these that He told the story of the Good Samaritan, that they might learn the lesson of love to their neighbour.
There was a man one day, the story began, who set out to travel along the road which led from Jerusalem to Jericho. It was a wild road, where robbers often lurked, ready to swoop down on any unsuspecting traveller if he happened to be alone and unarmed.
This man was going along the road, never dreaming of danger, when suddenly the robbers sprang out from behind the rocks and fell upon him. They took away from him everything he possessed, even his clothes, and hurt him so sorely that, when they went off and left him by the roadside, he was half dead.
Presently there came along the road one of the priests from the beautiful Temple, and he saw the poor wounded traveller lying there. But it was none of his business, he thought; he did not know the man or care about him. So he carefully drew aside, and passed by on the opposite side of the road. Then another man came along, one who also called himself a servant of God. He went close to the poor traveller and looked at him thoughtfully, but did not touch him or put out a hand to help him. It was not his duty to attend to wounded travellers, and no one could expect him to do more than his duty, and so he passed on.
The poor man would certainly have been left there to die if another traveller had not found him later on. This traveller was not a Jew, but a Samaritan and quite a stranger. He was not specially learned or anxious to do his duty. He never thought of duty as he looked at the poor stripped and wounded figure so sorely in need of help. Very gently he raised the traveller's head and bound up his gaping wounds; and then, lifting him upon the ass, he led him carefully along that dangerous road until an inn was reached. There the poor man was carefully tended; and as all his money had been stolen, the good, kind stranger paid the innkeeper himself before he left.
"Now," said Jesus to the learned man who had listened to the story, "which of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?"
"He that showed mercy on him," came the answer at once. The lawyer was quick to see the lesson Jesus would teach, but that was no use unless he learnt to practise the mercy He spoke of.
And so, "Go and do thou likewise," was the warning that fell from the Master's lips, as the story ended.