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Seeking Jesus, Class 13: The Savior’s Parables
Class 13: Parables
One day, when I was teaching a seminary, a student named Eric shared with the class what he called “The parable of the bumblebee.” Eric was riding his bike past a hive of bees. This made one of the bees mad, and the bee started chasing him. Eric rode his bike as fast as he could, but the bee kept following him. Eric got to his house, jumped off his bike, and ran towards the door. But he was too slow—the bee caught him and stung him. Then the bee died. What do you think is the message of this parable?
Eric shared that story more than 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve taught thousands of classes, but I still remember his parable—that’s part of what makes parables remarkable—they are easy to remember. The word “parable” means to “set beside or compare.” It’s a story from everyday experience that we can use to liken or compare to a truth or reality. Perhaps this is one reason why the Savior taught in parables, so that we could remember them. They have multiple meanings, so we can apply them in different ways and continually learn from them.
There is a lot to learn from the Savior’s parables. I’ll be honest, when I came home from my mission, I kind of felt like I had learned all I could learn from the parables because I’d gone on a mission, I’d read the New Testament, I even went to seminary and read Jesus the Christ. I thought, “What more can I learn?” I’ve since realized that I have a lot to learn.
I recently came across the book Stories with Intent, by Klyne R. Snodgrass. This scholar has made studying the parables a key part of his life’s work. He published a 900-page book showing how you can look at the parables through all sorts of angles I had never even thought of. This class will focus on parables, but we could have an entire semester course on this topic—today we’re just scratching the surface.
I hope you like parables; if you don’t, you probably won’t like the Synoptic Gospels. Did you know that if you were to take the words that Jesus says in Matthew, Mark and Luke, parables would make up about ⅓ of his teachings? Matthew, Mark, and Luke share many of the same parables, Matthew has 10 unique parables and Luke has 12. It’s interesting to note that there are no parables in John. I should point out that these numbers on the screen are approximate—what people count as a parable can differ, but for our purposes this can give you a rough idea.
A few ground rules about parables before we begin. First, when it comes to interpreting parables, remember that it’s a story, not a theological treatise, so don’t push the parable too far. Second, remember that parables often have multiple interpretations. Third, although we have traditional titles for parables like “The parable of the Good Samaritan” or “The parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard,” Jesus only named one of his parables—“The parable of the Sower.” This is important because what we call a parable can influence how we think about it. Later today, we’ll talk about “The parable of the Prodigal Son.” Calling it “The parable of the Prodigal Son,” forces our attention on the younger son. But what if we called the parable, “The parable of the Jealous Son”? Then we would focus our attention on the older brother. Or what if we called it “The Compassionate Father and His Two Lost Sons” drawing our minds to the father? The titles we use will influence how we interpret the parables.
We’ll begin today with “The parable of the Sower.” This is a unique parable because, not only does Jesus name the parable, he also gives an interpretation of it.
We read, “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (Mark 4:3-9, NRSV)
Note that the parable begins and ends with a call to “listen.” When the disciples ask Christ for an explanation of this parable, he says, “The sower soweth the word. And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred” (Mark 4:14–20, KJV).
We can see this parable from many different angles. For example, imagine you are a teacher or a sibling or a ministering sister, and you’re trying to help plant the word in somebody’s heart, but it seems like they have stony ground. Maybe for you, the message from the parable is, “I should work on cultivating the soil before I plant the seed.”
Another way we could read the parable is to think about ourselves as the different types of soil. I could ask, “How’s my soil doing? Am I part of the group of people that never really understand the word? Am I on the wayside?” Perhaps some parts of me are good soil, but other sections are a little rocky. Where do I need to more fully cultivate my soil?
Notice too that all the groups hear the word, but the unique thing about the good ground is they not only hear the word, they receive it, and then they do something with it. They produce fruit. Am I receiving and doing something with the word?
That leads to the question, what is meant by “the word” in this parable? It says, “The sower soweth the word.” One possible meaning is that it represents the teachings of Jesus, or the Gospel message. Another possibility is that it refers to Jesus himself. The Greek word translated as “Word” in this parable is the same one used in John chapter 1: “In the beginning was the Word… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). I’m not suggesting that there’s an intentional textual parallel, but it’s an interesting connection.
In the Book of Mormon, Alma gives a sermon where he discusses “the word” and seeds like we see in the parable of the sower. He says, “We will compare the word unto a seed” (Alma 32:28). Note that Alma doesn’t say faith is like a seed, he says we will compare the word to a seed. He also says, “Nourish the word” (Alma 32:40). Alma seems to have something specific in mind when he says, “the word.” At the end of this discourse to the Zoramites, Alma says,
“Begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection…I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts” (Alma 33:22–23). So “the word” that Alma was talking about is Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice. That’s what he wants us to plant.
As we ponder this parable, there are lots of application questions we could ask ourselves. “What could I do today to hear the word? To receive the word? To do something with the word?” For example, could we find opportunities, perhaps while getting ready in the morning or while waiting in line, to hear more of the Savior’s words? Are there ways we could more fully receive Christ’s atoning sacrifice and act on it?
Let’s turn to the parables in Luke 15. As with all parables, knowing the context is important. We read, “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This [man] welcomes sinners and eats with them”’ (Luke 15:1-2 (NRSV)). So the context of the three parables in Luke 15 is that the Pharisees are judging Jesus for eating with sinners.
Before we judge the Pharisees for judging, let’s remember there’s some rationale for their approach. Proverbs 4:14 says, “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men” (Proverbs 4:14). If we think back to fence laws, if a core law is “Don’t follow the path of the wicked,” maybe I want to build a fence of “Don’t hang out with the wicked” to protect myself. Because if I start hanging out with the wicked maybe I’ll become the wicked.
So there could be some good reasons for what the Pharisees are saying, but they’re missing the mark. Jesus shows this in three parables. The first is the parable of the lost sheep, which, if you remember, involves the 99 sheep and the missing one, so there’s a total of 100 sheep. I want to assure you that I have counted and there are 100 sheep on this image. Feel free to pause the video and count for yourself.
Next is the parable of the lost coin, and then the parable of the Prodigal Son. Here’s a little tidbit about the paintings you see on the screen—they are both done by Rembrandt. This first one on the left comes from early in his career. He and his wife are the models for the painting—so he’s painting himself as the prodigal son having a great time. Rembrandt painted the prodigal son returning late in his career, after personally experiencing many challenging times. Perhaps he identified with both parts of the story.
Let’s go to Luke 15 and look at the parable of the Lost Sheep. We read, “And he spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (Luke 15:3-7).
We can learn several great lessons from this parable. I want to highlight two. The first is, how do you even notice if you’re missing a sheep? If you’re a shepherd and you’ve got your hundred sheep grazing, can you visually tell the difference between 100 sheep grazing and 99 sheep? You’ve got to be really focused. You’re probably counting sheep to know if any are missing. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss it.
Just like some of you are not paying attention. Did you notice? When I first showed you this image, this is what I showed you. There were in fact 100 sheep on the screen, and then in the second image one sheep was gone. Did you notice? This parable shows the importance of figuring out who is missing. If you’re a ministering brother, a Sunday school teacher, a secretary in an organization, or serving in pretty much any calling, do you notice when someone isn’t there? It’s hard to be the Good Shepherd and seek after the sheep if we don’t even know somebody is missing.
Consider these words from Elder Clayton M. Christensen:
“In every sacrament meeting…our clerks count the number of sheep who returned to the fold. They store this number in a safe place for the quarterly report, and then we go home. If we conformed our ways to God’s ways, we’d list the names of the individual members who could have returned to the fold on that Sunday but didn’t come. Then we’d go find them.
“[In a district in France], at the end of Sunday meetings, the branch councils and missionaries together named the members and investigators who could have been there but didn’t come. They each took an assignment to contact one of those individuals that same day with this message: “We sure missed you today. Are you OK? It’s not the same for the rest of us when you can’t come. Can I help? Can you come next Sunday?”
Within two years, sacrament meeting attendance in the district increased from 540 to 725—in a region where convert baptisms are infrequent.
“We should be careful not to offend members who deliberately do not want to attend. But helping each member who only occasionally returns to the fold on Sunday to feel needed and feel our love is a simple practice that every ward and branch can begin. Many less-active members got that way because they didn’t return to the fold one Sunday and nobody seemed to notice.”
How could you and I apply this aspect of the parable of the lost sheep?
A related lesson from this parable concerns the effort we make to reach out to the lost sheep. I’m guessing the shepherd made a significant effort to rescue the lost sheep. Do you and I go the extra mile? I love what Elder Mervyn B. Arnold described—let’s take a look.
The boy who was playing hooky went on to serve in many church callings and helped build God’s Kingdom because someone went the extra mile to reach out to him. I get the feeling that if Brother Marques had just texted the boy and said, “Hey, I missed you at church,” it wouldn’t have been enough. Obviously, we need to be sensitive in our outreach to others. Sometimes we need to go the extra mile and sometimes we need to give a person some space. The Holy Ghost will help us know what to do in each individual situation.
Versions of this parable are in both Matthew and Luke and the endings are slightly different in each. In Matthew, Jesus, says, “Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18:14). This is so important. Maybe you’re trying to reach out to someone and they’re ghosting you, or you just feel like, your efforts aren’t being successful. Remember Jesus saying to you, “Heavenly Father and I don’t want any of these little ones to perish. Thank you for your efforts to help them.” Then you continue to minister and never give up.
The ending in Luke is a little different. At the end of the parable Jesus says, “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). I don’t know if you’ve ever read this parable and kind of felt disappointed, like “I’m one of the 99 good sheep, doesn’t heaven rejoice over me? Should I go sin so there’s some rejoicing?” Or we read about the parable of the woman who loses one of her ten pieces of silver, searches diligently and then rejoices when she finds the lost coin. At the end of this parable Jesus says, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:10). If you’ve ever felt slighted by these parables, I have good news for you. We’re all sinners. Sometimes we’re the 99, but often we’re the 1. We all stray from God, and there’s a lot of joy in heaven over you and me, so we don’t need to worry that heaven isn’t rejoicing over us.
But if I have the attitude, “I’m the best sheep ever” then there’s a parable in this chapter especially for me. It’s commonly called the parable of the Prodigal Son and it’s the longest of all the Savior’s parables.
Christ says, “A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living” (Luke 15:11-13). Did you notice how the younger son gathered all together—most college students leave stuff at home because they know they’re coming back. This younger son apparently is planning on a one-way trip.
Jesus continues, “And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him” (Luke 15:14-16).
Because pigs were unclean animals, feeding swine would have been one of the lowest professions a person could possibly have. This son is at rock bottom. But he came to himself. He returned to his father, and when he did, “when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). Notice that the father saw his returning son while the son was still off in the distance. Do you think the father was looking for him? Also note the detail that the father ran to his son—even though in that culture it was not considered appropriate for older men to run.
The father welcomes his son, gives him new clothes and kills the fatted calf so that they can have a great party. The older son, who has been working in the field comes back to the house and hears the music and dancing. When he finds out that it’s a celebration for his younger brother, he’s angry.
Let’s examine the conversation between the father and the older brother. Remember, Jesus begins the parable with, “A certain man had two sons” (Luke 15:11).
In verse 28, the older son “would not go in” (v 28) to the party. Instead, his father “came out” (v. 28). The older son says, “You never gave me a goat” (v. 29), the father says, “You are always with me” (v. 31). Notice how the older son frames his relationship with his brother in verse 30. “As soon as this thy son was come…” (v. 30) separating him. Have you ever done that? Like if you’re mad at one of your children, you say to your spouse, “Your child is really struggling.” That’s kind of what the older brother is doing here.
In contrast, the father says, “Your brother was dead and is alive again” (v. 32). The older son is angry (v.28), but the father says, “We should rejoice.”
Both brothers struggle with sin—one of the challenges for the older brother is that his is less obvious. The younger brother knows he’s in the wrong—but the older brother thinks he is in the right. That can make things challenging for those of us who have the older brother syndrome.
What happens in verse 33? Actually, there is no verse 33—you and I have to supply it. Verse 32 ends on an abrupt note: the Father said, “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 15:32). What happens next? Does verse 33 say, “And it came to pass, the brother was angry and stomped away filled with wrath”? Or is it, “And it came to pass the brother softened his heart, he said, father, you’re right. He went in and embraced his younger brother”? We don’t know!
It reminds me of an earlier class when we ended Mark 16 with the women in the tomb. We had to ask ourselves, “Are we going to go out and share the message or will we be afraid?” “Will I be a judgmental older brother and not forgive? Or am I going to go embrace my brother?” You and I are left to finish the story in our own lives.
We can see ourselves in the parable in many ways. Perhaps sometimes we’re the prodigal son. We need to come to ourselves and repent. Maybe at times we’re the prideful older son, needing to rejoice in others good choices. This by the way, seems to be a key point of the Savior’s point in this parable. If we go back to the context of Luke 15:1-2, the Pharisees were grumbling because Jesus was eating with sinners. The older son’s behavior most closely matches the original context of the parable. He’s grumbling because his Father is rejoicing with his younger brother who he sees as a sinner.
Perhaps in this parable we are sometimes like the father—we’re waiting, we’re hoping, we’re willing to forgive. We’re eager for a loved one to return. Maybe we don’t spend enough time thinking about the father’s painful journey. How did he feel every day waiting for his son to return? Sometimes we’re that father, sitting for longer than we want, waiting for someone to return. Take a moment to consider these three parables from Luke 15—what relevance do you see in your life today?
Let’s turn to the parable of the unforgiving servant. A few verses before this parable begins, there’s a question about what to do if someone at church offends you. Then Peter asks, “If someone trespasses against me, how many times do I need to forgive them?” It’s in the context of being offended by someone at church and forgiving others, that Christ gives this parable.
Let’s approximate how much money we’re going to be talking about in this parable. The King James Version refers to pennies and talents, and those aren’t monetary units we’re familiar with.
The word we have as a penny was a denarius. That’s one day’s wages for a common laborer. For round numbers, let’s assume that today a minimum wage for a day’s work is $100. One talent equaled 6,000 pennies. That would be $600,000 dollars, or 25 years’ worth of wages. With those two figures in mind, we can better approximate the different amounts discussed in this parable. The first servant owes his master 10,000 talents. That would be 164,000 years’ worth of wages or 6 billion dollars. A second servant owes the first servant 100 pence, which would be 100 days wages, about $10,000. That’s still a substantial amount of money, but nothing in comparison to what the first servant owes.
Jesus begins the parable saying, “When the king began to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents” (Matthew 18:24). If you’re a 1st century listener, you already know this is crazy. If a story begins with, “Someone owed another person 6 billion dollars,” you know there’s no possible way to repay that debt.
But the servant fell down and said, “Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all” (Matthew 18:26). The master is merciful. The entire debt is forgiven. Then this first servant encounters the second servant who owes him the equivalent of $10,000 and says, “Give me what you owe me.” Notice how the second servant does the exactly what the first one did. He falls down at the first servant’s feet and says the exact same phrase. “Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” (Matthew 18:29).
But the first servant doesn’t forgive. He casts the second servant into prison. When the king hears about this, he says to the first servant, “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” (Matthew 18:32–33).
Christ concludes the parable saying, “His lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matthew 18:34–35).
The message of this parable is obvious—we must forgive. A key to driving this parable into our hearts is to ask ourselves, “If I were really forgiven 6 billion dollars, would I forgive someone else $10,000? Those numbers are so astronomical that maybe we could change it slightly. Imagine that your wealthy friend drives a Ferrari and lets you take it for a spin. You’re not paying attention while you’re driving, and you wreck the Ferrari. Your generous friend says, “Don’t worry about it.” Later that day, somebody breaks a pencil you loaned them. If your friend forgave you for wrecking the Ferrari, you could certainly forgive a broken pencil. In other words, in this parable we’re the first servant. Jesus is forgiving us, in essence, 6 billion dollars worth of sin. So can we turn around and forgive somebody who owes us 10,000 dollars worth of sin?
I love how Christian leaders Timothy and Kathy Keller frame this idea. They refer to Christ on the cross saying “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) and write, “If you see Jesus dying on the cross for others, forgiving the people who killed him, that can be just a crushing example of forgiving love that you will never be able to live up to. But if instead you see Jesus dying on the cross for you, forgiving you, putting away your sin, that changes everything. . . . The joy and freedom that comes from knowing that the Son of God did that for you enables you to do the same for [others.]”
We might encounter some really challenging circumstances when it’s almost impossible to forgive. We could feel like somebody has sinned a 10 billion dollar sin against us. Remember what Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught: “[Jesus] did not say, “You are not allowed to feel true pain or real sorrow from the shattering experiences you have had at the hand of another.” Nor did He say, “In order to forgive fully, you have to reenter a toxic relationship or return to an abusive, destructive circumstance.” But notwithstanding even the most terrible offenses that might come to us, we can rise above our pain only when we put our feet onto the path of true healing. That path is the forgiving one walked by Jesus of Nazareth, who calls out to each of us, ‘Come, follow me.’”
Let’s go to the parable of the Good Samaritan. This might be the most famous of all the Savior’s parables. You know the background, in Luke 10 we read, “A scholar of religion stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?” He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?” He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.” “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.” Notice that up front, Jesus is emphasizing “do it.”
Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
Jesus then gave the following parable: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.” (Luke 10:30–32)
We might criticize the priest and Levite for passing by—but the ancient road between Jerusalem and Jericho was dangerous, so maybe there’s some justification. But potential danger didn’t matter to the Samaritan who saw a person in need, and it’s the Samaritan that the Savior highlights. Remember from our previous class that there were centuries of enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans. The parable continues:
“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee” (Luke 10:33–35).
After recounting this parable, Christ said to the religious scholar, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:36–37). Notice, how both at the beginning and the end of this parable, Christ emphasizes doing. It’s good to know the two great commandments, it’s good to know the parable of the Good Samaritan, but Christ really wants us to do something about it.
There are many applications of this parable; I love this commentary from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He said, “It’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking…in order to… lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked -- the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’” That’s a powerful question for us to consider.
It’s not very likely that we’ll come across a wounded individual in the coming days, but perhaps we will encounter somebody that we have some enmity with—somebody that we could cheer up with a kind word or smile. Take a moment and think—how could you apply this parable?
Let’s conclude with the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. The background for this parable is the story of the rich young ruler, who won’t leave his riches behind. After the rich man leaves, Peter says to Jesus, “’[Lord], we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have...?’ Jesus said to them… ‘You will have a great reward…But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first’” (Matthew 19:27-30). Then Jesus gives the parable of the laborers and concludes it by again saying that the last will be first and the first will be last.
It’s almost like Peter’s wondering, “I’m working really hard to build your kingdom, what am I going to get?” And Jesus says, “You’re going to get a lot of good stuff, but it might not turn out exactly the way you think.” This parable reminds us that God doesn’t use our metrics for giving rewards that are fair. And this parable is especially relevant for those who think they’re better than others or deserve more than others do. In essence, this parable asks us “How can you build God’s Kingdom if you’re focused on getting and comparing?
Jesus said, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ (Matthew 20:1-8, NRSV).
Why do you think the owner of the vineyard started paying first, those who had been hired last? As we’ll see, this will cause problems. Did he want the first workers to see the wage that would be given to the last workers?
Jesus continues, “When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’
But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’” (Matthew 20:9-15, NRSV).
We can sense the injustice felt by those who labored all day. Why should somebody who worked for just one hour receive the same payment they got? Of course, there’s also the point, how do you feel if you’re the laborer that nobody has hired? It’s 4:45 PM, and you’re going to have to go home and tell your family, “There’s no food today.” Wouldn’t you rather be the person working all day knowing that at least you’ll be able to feed your family?
I recently read Hank Smith’s book Living the Parables where he talks about a conversation he had with a friend. Hank said, “[Hypothetically] What if you find out in the next life that everybody gets the celestial kingdom? No matter what, everyone gets the exact same reward. How would you feel?”
Hank’s friend: “I would be really upset.”
Hank’s friend: “Because I’ve worked hard and sacrificed a lot to get there.”
Hank: “You worked hard and sacrificed a lot, and you got the reward you were planning on. So what’s wrong?”
Hank’s friend: “Yes, but it would still bother me.”
Why do you think Hank’s friend would still be bothered? Do we ever feel that way? Perhaps some of us are those who have been laboring all day in the Kingdom. We might feel frustrated if someone gets what we perceive to be too many blessings when they haven’t been working very hard. Jesus doesn’t want us to focus on what some of the others are getting, he wants us to focus on building his Kingdom, not comparing what different laborers in the Kingdom are receiving.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland highlighted one lesson from this parable, saying,
“We are not diminished when someone else is added upon. We are not in a race against each other to see who is the wealthiest or the most talented or the most beautiful or even the most blessed. The race we are really in is the race against sin…So be kind, and be grateful that God is kind. It is a happy way to live.”
I started today with a parable, let me end with the Parable of the Escalator. There once was a man who wanted to walk up the down escalator. He knew it would be dangerous, so he put on a helmet. He found that if he stopped moving, he went down. If he walked at a certain pace, he could hold his place on the escalator. But in order to get to the top of the escalator, he had to quicken his pace.
I should tell you that shortly after that video clip ends, my wife, children and I were kicked out of the mall—so don’t try this at home. We can liken mortality to a walking up a down escalator. Because we live in a fallen world, we face a constant downward pull—it takes real effort to make progress.
President Henry B. Eyring and see how they relate to this escalator parable:
“As the forces around us increase in intensity, whatever spiritual strength was once sufficient will not be enough. And whatever growth in spiritual strength we once thought was possible, greater growth will be made available to us. Both the need for spiritual strength and the opportunity to acquire it will increase at rates which we underestimate at our peril” (“Always,” BYU Devotional, 3 Jan. 1999).
Metaphorically, the downward speed of the escalator is increasing. We have to walk faster and faster, spiritually speaking just to keep up. But the good news is that today we have many more ways to invite the light of Christ into our lives than were available even just a few years ago. I hope that in this class you’ve seen some personal lessons from Christ’s parables that could help you continue your journey up the down escalator.
It might not be doing more of something; it could be making small changes to what we’re already doing. What can we do to hear, to receive, and do something with the word? Is there someone in our stewardship that we need to be looking for? If someone comes back to the fold, will we rejoice with them? Am I forgiving others? How can I be like the Good Samaritan today? How can I focus less on getting my share and more on rejoicing in God’s mercy? Sometime in the next 48 hours you or I might be in a challenging situation. If so, I hope we’ll say, “This is just like that parable…” and then we’ll go and do likewise.
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