It’s been said that good things often come in small packages and this saying can sometimes be true of Jesus’ parables as well. You see, while some of Jesus’ parables were lengthy and detailed, there were others that lasted just a sentence or two. These brief parables deliver a lot of spiritual insight for those who are willing to listen, and like all of Jesus’ parables, they’re designed to let His followers in on the meaning and application of God’s Word.
However, we shouldn’t forget that Jesus’ parables come with both a promise and a warning…
“So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them” (Luke 8:18 NLT).
So with that, here are a few examples of some of Jesus’ shorter parables…
“(Jesus) told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches” (Matthew 13:31-32 NIV).
Wild mustard plants were well-known to the people of Jesus’ day and could often be found growing wild in a field or along a roadside. While there are different types of mustard plants, at least one common variety of that time had the ability to grow from a tiny seed to a towering 10-15 feet (3-4.5 m) height in just one season if the conditions were good. People of that time cultivated mustard plants for oil and also for seasoning food as we do today. Birds liked eating mustard seeds as well and would perch in the branches of a large mustard plant to eat some of the seeds there.
This parable of the mustard seed is a good illustration of the impact that a Christian can have in the lives of others. Just as a tiny mustard seed can grow to produce a great plant, one life lived for God can start from small beginnings and grow to have a great effect on the lives of many others.
“He told them still another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough'” (Matthew 13:33 NIV).
A baker knows that a small bit of yeast mixed into some dough will cause it to rise and expand enough to be made into a loaf of bread. This idea can also be used to illustrate the life of a Christian as well. A new Christian “starts small” with only a limited amount of knowledge and experience in the things of God. But as that person goes to church, reads the Scriptures and spends time with other Christians (see Acts 2:42), he or she can experience great spiritual growth as God’s Word begins to work in and through their life.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44 NIV).
When people want to save money today, they usually go to a bank and deposit their money in an account. Back in Jesus’ day however, banks were a little different from the banks that we know today. A “banker” of that day often worked from a table where he would exchange Roman coinage for money that could be used in connection with Temple activities. These bankers also made loans and paid interest on the money that people deposited with them (see Matthew 25:27). While this worked well for currency, these “banks” couldn’t provide long-term safekeeping for other important valuables. Because of this, people found that burying their valuables secretly in a field or garden was often the safest way to keep them safe from theft or accidents.
However, if someone found a hidden valuable buried within a field and then bought that property, that person automatically became the new owner of anything that was buried there according to the laws of that day. That’s exactly what the man in Jesus’ parable did to obtain the treasure that he found. So what does this parable tell us? Well, it tells us that a finding a relationship with God and living with Him forever is something that is so valuable that it’s worth giving up everything else to get it.
“He also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain– first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come'” (Mark 4:26-29 NIV).
When a farmer plants a crop in the spring, there’s a period of time when nothing much seems to happen. Yet the farmer doesn’t become discouraged because he or she knows that day by day, the seed that was planted undergoes a transformation just below the surface and out of sight. Finally, there comes a day when the farmer can actually see the growth and positive results that have occurred through his or her efforts in planting their crop.
In a similar way, it’s sometimes possible to become spiritually discouraged when going through those times when nothing seems to be happening in our relationship with God. But just as a farmer is unable to see the activity that’s taking place below the surface, so it may also be with God’s work in your life and the lives of others.
You never know what God may be doing behind the scenes on your behalf and just because you can’t always see God at work doesn’t necessarily that He isn’t working to make good things happen without your knowledge. Remember that a farmer doesn’t plant something and then come back and harvest it the next day, so ask God to help you also be patient as He works out His plan in your life.