Appendix 4. Miscellaneous Parables, Analogies, and Sayings


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In an attempt to be fairly comprehensive, I have placed 14 parables and analogies in this appendix, rather than include them in the twelve lessons of the study. Trying to keep the word count of each of the lessons under control and maintaining unity of lessons requires a bit of picking and choosing. In general, I have judged these are less important in training disciples for the Kingdom.

Some of these are brief sayings and simple analogies. Others are more obscure analogies that don't have as much relevance today as they might have had in the first century. Others are figures of speech included for the vivid word pictures they create.

1. Light and Darkness

2. Jesus

3. Jesus' Enemies

4. The Kingdom

1. Light and Darkness

Analogies of Walking in Light and Darkness (John 9:4; 11:9-10; 12:35-36a)

Based on himself as the Light of the World, Jesus discusses how disciples must learn to walk in the light rather than to walk in the darkness, particularly to take advantage of Jesus' presence with them while he is still present in the flesh. John's Gospel records several instances where Jesus speaks about walking by daylight vs. walking in darkness.

1. Context: the man born blind

"4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (John 9:4-5)

We see the theme of working while you have daylight, as well as the metaphors of light vs. darkness, evil, death.

2. Context: Going to Visit Lazarus

"9 Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light.1 10 It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light."2 (John 11:9-10)

Twelve hours were thought of as the length of a day. In other words, Jesus is saying: So long as I am still alive and it is "day," we must do what we are called to do while we are still able (cf. Jeremiah 13:15b-16a).

3. Context: Will the Christ Remain Forever?3

"35 You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. 36 Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light."4 (John 12:35-36a)

In other words, you will have the light of my presence only a bit longer, before I am killed. Take advantage of that. Jesus' disciples who trust in the light and follow Jesus will take on the characteristic of light in themselves as "children of light" (Luke 16:8). In Lesson 12.3 we see the Analogies of the City on a Hill and of the Lamp and the Bushel, where light becomes a metaphor of witness and visibility.

Analogy of the Light of the World (John 8:12; 9:5; 1:4-9)

Light and darkness are themes throughout the Bible, beginning at creation (Genesis 1:2-4). Light is often used as a symbol of goodness, uprightness, or blessing, while darkness is linked with disaster and wickedness.

Light is a metaphor of both righteousness and enlightenment found in Christ (Proverbs 13:9; 1 John 1:5). The opposites of light are darkness and blindness. John begins his Gospel with the idea that Jesus is the Light.

"4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. ... 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world." (John 1:4-5, 9)

"I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness." (John 12:46)

It is not surprising that Jesus uses light and darkness in his teachings. The Parables of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Lesson 5.2), the Lamp under a Bushel (Lesson 12.3), the City on a Hill (Lesson 12.3), the Good Eye (Lesson 3.4), and the Lost Coin (Lesson 1.1) all employ light.

One of the seven "I AM" statements of Jesus in John's Gospel is: "I am the Light of the World," found twice in John (John 8:12; 9:5). Light is an ongoing theme in John's Gospel (e.g., John 3:19). Indeed, several Messianic prophecies contain the promise of light (Isaiah 9:2, 6; Malachi 4:2a; Luke 2:30-32).

2. Jesus

Several parables tell us something about Jesus and his understanding of his ministry. We see him as the Great Physician, the Son, and the Bridegroom. And we observe cryptic references to his death and resurrection on the third day.

Saying: Physician, Heal Yourself (Luke 4:23-24, §10)

Jesus is in his hometown of Nazareth, asked to read the Scriptures in the synagogue on the Sabbath. He opens the scroll to Isaiah 61 ("the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me ....). He finishes, then says, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." The people say nice things about their native son, but Jesus knows that in their hearts there is unbelief. They know him as Joseph's son, not as a prophet of God.

"23 Jesus said to them, 'Surely you will quote this proverb to me: "Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum." I tell you the truth,' he continued, 'no prophet is accepted in his hometown.'" (Luke 4:23-24)

"Physician, heal yourself," seems to be a popular saying, what we might call an aphorism or maxim.5 It is short, only three words, found only in Luke.

In English, we have an old proverb that dates back at least to the sixteenth century: "The cobbler's children go barefoot."6 The cobbler makes shoes for everyone except his own family. Here, Jesus sees in their hearts the thought: You have been performing miracles everywhere else. Do some miracles here in your hometown also.7

Jesus' short saying, "Physician, heal yourself," reminds us that we can't expect all to accept us, even if they think they know us. Elsewhere, Jesus refers to himself as a physician in the saying, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick" (Matthew 9:12). See the Analogy of the Doctor and the Sick (Lesson 12.1).

Analogy of the Temple of Jesus' Body (John 2:18-22)

On at least one occasion, Jesus gives a kind of cryptic statement that alludes to his resurrection. The audience isn't solely his disciples, but includes Jewish leaders who are his opponents.

"18 Then the Jews demanded of him, 'What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?'

19 Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.'

20 The Jews replied, 'It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?' 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body.
22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken." (John 2:18-22)

The essence of a temple is that inside lives the deity. In Jesus' body is God himself. Thus, Jesus is the true temple in their midst, not the temple in Jerusalem made by hands. His body that they will kill will be raised from the dead on the third day. As we note in the Parable of the Sign of Jonah below, the Hebrews counted parts of days as full days, so for them, three days and the third day meant essentially the same thing.

Later, at his trial before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders use this cryptic analogy against him, and secure two people to testify that he said it (in Matthew's and Mark's accounts). Of course, they misunderstood the analogy of Jesus' body being the temple.

"60 They did not find any [witnesses], though many false witnesses came forward.

Finally two came forward 61 and declared, 'This fellow said, "I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days."'

62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, 'Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?' 63 But Jesus remained silent. (Matthew 26:60-63a; cf. Mark 14:57-59)

To Jesus' group of disciples, his saying was a confirmation to them after the resurrection on the third day. I don't think that disciples today have something in particular to learn here, except perhaps that our bodies are a temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), because of the Holy Spirit living within us (Romans 8:9-11).

The Parable of the Sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:38-42, §87; Luke 11:29-32, §152)

When the Pharisees and scribes demanded a sign to prove Jesus' authenticity, he responded with a reference to the story of Jonah.

"39 A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here." (Matthew 12:38-41)

The comparison is: between Jonah and the Son of Man.

"As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish,
so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:40)

The sign, of course, involves his resurrection from the tomb on the third day. As mentioned in the Analogy of the Temple of Jesus' Body above, Jews counted as a day any part of a day. To get picky that three days and three nights don't equal three 24-hour days introduces a problem that first century believers didn't see, because of how they counted time in their culture. The sign of Jonah is the sign of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection.

Analogy of the Slave and the Son (John 8:34-36)

Jesus has just said to some Jewish leaders that his true disciples who hold to his word will be free.

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32)

Jesus' hearers took "set free" to mean emancipation from slavery, as the word is often used.8 Some of them took offense. Though politically under Roman rule, Jews still maintained some freedom under their own kings (Herod's sons), the Sanhedrin, and the high priests (appointed by Herod's family). They insist that they are not slaves! (For more see, Appendix 6. Slavery in Jesus' Day.)

Jesus responds by explaining that he is not talking about political or social slavery, but spiritual slavery.

"34 I tell you the truth, everyone who sins9 is a slave10 to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:34-36)

Slavery to sin is a difficult concept for us -- mainly because we usually don't understand how trapped we can become by our habits, core beliefs, thought patterns, desires, passions, and lifestyles (Ephesians 2:1-3). We imagine that we act of our own free will, but our will can easily become ensnared, trapped in our sin. The sin we may have once committed out of our own (relatively) free will, now enslaves us, making us unable to stop.11

The analogy of the slave and the son seems like an observation on the difference between a slave and a son.

"Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever." (John 8:35)

Jesus' Jewish hearers imagine themselves "sons of Abraham" in a genealogical sense, but Jesus says they are not really spiritual sons of Abraham, but rather slaves to sin. Verse 35 simply states that the difference between a slave and a son is that a slave is temporary -- he can be sold at any time. But a son is always a son by right, even if he is estranged or far away. The unbelieving Jews are not permanent members of the household; they need freedom.

"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36)

Only the Son, the Heir, a true member of the family, can manumit a slave and set him free. And then adopt him, so that he becomes a permanent member of the family.

The simple analogy of the slave and the son reminds us that we aren't automatically saved or part of God's family, though we are his creation. We need to be freed from spiritually slavery -- saved -- by the Son of God himself!

Analogy of the Bridegroom's Friend (John the Baptist, John 3:29-30)

Now we examine a parable that John the Baptist used -- even though it is strictly speaking beyond the scope of our study of Jesus' own parables.

In the Parable of the Bridegroom's Guests (Lesson 7.2), Jesus has identified himself using the figure of a bridegroom. John the Baptist comes at this from a whole different point of view, but still refers to Jesus as the bridegroom.

A report comes to John the Baptist about Jesus baptizing and attracting large crowds -- even exceeding in size the crowds John used to attract. You can sense a bit of resentment in John's disciples who bring the report. John is the original baptizer, but this upstart is upstaging him and "everyone is going to him."12 John's reply is remarkable in its humility.

"27 A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.' 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:27-30)

John makes four points:

  1. God directs our lives, not ambition.
  2. I am not the Christ.
  3. I find fulfillment in the bridegroom's joy.
  4. He must increase, I must decrease.

In verse 29, John compares his role to that of a friend of the actual bridegroom, who takes joy in his friend's joy. The "friend of the bridegroom" -- we would say, the "best man" -- is the traditional Jewish shoshebin who acts as an agent for the groom and takes care of arranging for the wedding. He works behind the scenes to prepare for the celebration, but he isn't the focus of the day. The focus, of course, is on the bridegroom and his bride. The best man receives his joy when he hears the groom conversing with the bride. "It is not about me," John insists. "It is about the Messiah."

This is the mark of a disciple, one who is no longer centered in himself, but in Jesus. Would that all of us could say with John the Baptist (verse 30): "He must increase and I must decrease" (ESV, NRSV, KJV).

3. Jesus' Enemies

Analogy of the Children in the Marketplace (Matthew 11:16-19, §65; Luke 7:31-32, §82)

The Analogy of the Children in the Marketplace is a short parable, a simple comparison. Jesus has been praising John the Baptist to the crowds, and bemoaning the fact that the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders had "rejected God's purpose for themselves" (Luke 7:30) by rejecting John's message. Both Jesus and his cousin John have been criticized -- but for opposite reasons. Their opponents are arbitrary, fickle, like children.

"16 To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 'We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.'

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.'
19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." 'But wisdom is proved right by her actions.'" (Matthew 11:16-19)

Jesus seems to be picturing children playing, where one group complains that the other group will never go along with what they want. They won't dance to the fast tunes of the pipe, nor will they mourn to the sad harmonies of a funeral. They won't go along. Neither John the Baptist nor Jesus had gone along with what the leaders wanted.

But notice the saying has two parts: dancing and mourning, perhaps intended to correspond to the differences between John and Jesus. John is the mourner who would not dance, while Jesus is the dancer who would not mourn. They criticized John for his asceticism and Jesus for his refusal to fast and for going to parties thrown by tax collectors and sinners. Like children, you couldn't please his opponents.

The cryptic phrase, "Wisdom is proved right by her actions" (verse 19b) seems to suggest that "both Jesus and John in their different ways have displayed ... practical wisdom, which is thus 'justified' over the criticism of those who represent a more conventional lifestyle."13

The message of this parable is simple. Jesus is explaining why he ignores his critics. Don't listen to criticism, he is saying, listen to God and what he wants you to do. Only that, in the end, will justify your actions no matter what your critics say.

Parable of Rescuing from a Well (Matthew 12:9-14, §70; Luke 14:2-5, §168)

Jesus was notorious for healing on the Sabbath. The Jews objected to healing on the Sabbath as "work," the work of a physician. Jesus uses a similar comparison or analogy to show their hypocrisy on two different occasions when he is about to heal an afflicted person on the Sabbath.

Luke's account finds him invited for dinner at the home of a prominent -- and skeptical -- Pharisee where one of the guests has dropsy or edema, a condition where the tissues swell because of fluid retention, particularly visible in the legs and feet. Jesus challenges his critics:

"5 If one of you has a son14 or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?' 6 And they had nothing to say." (Luke 14:5-6)

Matthew's account has Jesus healing a man with a withered hand in the synagogue.

"11 If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." (Matthew 12:11-12)

Rabbis of the day had ruled that rescuing an animal was permissible on the Sabbath. So Jesus argues from the lesser (the animal) to the greater (the human sufferer) to permit healing on the Sabbath. There wasn't much that Jesus' enemies could say, but it angered them.

Saying of the Blind Leading the Blind (Matthew 15:14, §115; Luke 6:39, §76)

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 'The Blind Leading the Blind' (1568), distemper on linen canvas, 34 x 61 in.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 'The Blind Leading the Blind' (1568), distemper on linen canvas, 34 x 61 in., Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy.

In Luke's Gospel, the Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind is connected with the Parable of the Speck and the Beam (Lesson 3.4), immediately preceding it. It is a brief parable, an illustration of the ridiculousness of following people who are spiritually blind.

"He also told them this parable: 'Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?'" (Luke 6:39)

In another instance, Jesus has referred to the Pharisees concerning their criticism of eating with hands that haven't first been ritually washed.

"Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit." (Matthew 15:14)

It almost sounds as if the blind leading the blind were a common proverb in Jesus' culture.

Analogy of the Brood of Vipers (Matthew 12:34, §85; 23:33, §210)

Jesus had some harsh comparisons of his critics, calling them snakes -- vipers, whose bite was capable of poisoning and sometimes killing.

"You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." (Matthew 12:34)

"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?" (Matthew 23:33)

John the Baptist had also used this comparison (Matthew 3:7 = Luke 3:7).

Analogy of the Den of Robbers (Matthew 21:13; Luke 19:46, §198; John 2:16)

The temple was to be a holy place, but the religious leaders -- particularly the high priest -- had licensed franchises for merchants to sell certified sacrificial animals and exchange money at exorbitant rates, right within the temple walls. Jesus didn't spare them when he cleansed the temple.

"'It is written,' he said to them, '"My house will be called a house of prayer," but you are making it a "den of robbers."'" (Matthew 21:13)

"To those who sold doves he said, 'Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!'" (John 2:16)

4. The Kingdom

Finally, we see two parables that tell us something about the Kingdom. I didn't include them in the text because they are the focus of much controversy between Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestant scholars. Whole books have been written about this, but we'll examine them very briefly here.

Analogy of Peter the Rock (Matthew 16:18, §122; John 1:42)

We almost miss the fact that Peter's nickname, given by Jesus, is a metaphor itself. Andrew brings his brother Simon to meet Jesus.

"He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, 'You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas (which, when translated, is Peter).'" (John 1:42)

Jesus sees something in Simon and prophetically calls him Peter (Greek petros, "stone, rock") -- in Aramaic, Cephas, which is what Paul calls him.

Later, at Caesarea Philippi, Peter declares, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!" (Matthew 16:15). Jesus, excited at Peter's discernment and faith in what the Father revealed to him, responds:

"And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." (Matthew 16:18)

Peter has said: You are the Messiah. Jesus responds: You are the Rock. Roman Catholics see verse 18 as granting Peter himself primacy as the first Pope and Bishop of Rome. Protestants tend to see this as Christ founding his church on the solid rock of faith illustrated by Peter's confession of Jesus the Messiah. No matter how you see it, Simon Peter is a pillar apostle and a foundation stone in the Church (Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 2:20).

Analogy of the Keys of the Kingdom (Matthew 16:19, §122)

In Peter's faith declaration that Jesus is the Messiah at Caesarea Philippi we see an additional analogy:

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19)

Keys are used in the Bible figuratively to indicate authority over a household or domain (Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 1:18; 3:7; 9:1; 20:1).

Jesus' Parables for Disciples, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available in paperback, PDF, and Kindle formats

There is much debate about the exact meaning of the "power of the keys." Roman Catholics connect the keys with Jesus' statement to his apostles after his resurrection:

"21b 'As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.' 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'" (John 20:21-23)

Thus, Catholics believe that Peter and his successors have the authority to grant absolution and salvation, or to deny it.

Protestants, on the other hand, see Peter as representing the apostles. That the keys refer to the total apostolic mission of bringing the message of remission of sins to those who believe.

 

References and Abbreviations

[1] "This world's light" (NIV) doesn't refer here to Jesus' title as "the Light of the World" (John 8:12), but to the sun's light during the day.

[2] Verse 10, "for he has not light" (NIV), is literally, "the light is not in him" (ESV, NRSV).

[3] They are using "law" in a general sense as the Scripture as a whole. While the Christ remaining forever isn't in the Pentateuch, it was widely held in Judaism in Jesus' day (Morris, John, p. 599, fn. 88).

[4] "Sons of light" carries the idea of sharing in light. Huios, "son," with the genitive of thing denotes "one who shares in it or who is worthy of it, or who stands in some other close relation to it," often made clear by the context (BDAG 1025, 2cb).

[5] The Greek word is parabolē, "a narrative saying of varying length, designed to illustrate a truth especially through comparison or simile, comparison, illustration, parable, proverb, maxim."[5]

[6] John Haywood, Proverbes (1538), Part I, chapter XI, page 147.

[7] Marshall, Luke, p. 187 cites three similar references including "Physician, heal your own limp" (Gn. R 23 (15c), in Strack and Billerbeck II, 156); Euripides, Frg. 1071; and an Arabic proverb, "A doctor who cures other people and is himself ill" (Bultmann, Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition (Göttigen, 1958), p. 112n).

[8] "Set free" is eleutheroō, "to cause someone to be freed from domination, free, set free" (BDAG 317).

[9] "Sins" (NIV), "commits sin" (NRSV, KJV), "practices sin" (ESV) is two words: harmartia, "sin"; and the present tense of poieō, "to do, make," here, "do, commit, be guilty of" sins and vices (BDAG 840, 3c). The present tense suggests continued activity, not just a past event.

[10] "Slave" is doulos, "slave" (BDAG 260, 2a).

[11] Paul speaks clearly of this slavery to sin (Romans 6:17-18, 22; 8:2).

[12] John 4:2 explains that Jesus wasn't baptizing people himself; he had delegated this ministry to his disciples.

[13] France, Matthew, p. 435

[14] "Son" (NIV, ESV), "child" (NRSV), "ass" (KJV) reflects a textual variant in the Greek manuscripts. Metzger (Textual Commentary, p. 138) says that the oldest reading preserved in the manuscripts seems to be "son" (P45, 75 (A) B W). "Because the collocation of the two words appeared to be somewhat incongruous, copyists altered "son" to either "donkey" (as in Luke 13:15) or "sheep" as in Matthew 12:11. The Committee gives it a {B}, "some degree of doubt" confidence rating.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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