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Parables of Jesus: The Lost Sons and the Good Samaritan

Johan Smulders has a . B.A, B.ED and M.A in Education, Theology and Counselling. Works as an evangelist and counsellor.


Two famous parables in Luke.

Parables of Jesus: The Prodigal Sons and The Good Samaritan.

Luke records 19 parables that are not recorded in the other Gospels. Several of the all time favourite parables appear in this list. The parable commonly referred to as “The Parable of the Lost Son” is one of those. This parable, together with the parable of “The Good Samaritan”, are possibly two of the best known and most loved parables in the New Testament.

The interesting thing about both these parables is that they teach us a lot about God and also about human nature. Every one of us can identify with these two great parables on some level. Each of us can also take a new look at the God of the Bible and understand Him better after reading these parables.

When interpreting any parable two basic questions need to be considered. Firstly, what is the context in which Jesus taught the parable, and secondly what was the intended outcome of the teaching? In Luke 15:1,2; the context for the first of these two parables under consideration, is recorded by Luke. Because the tax collectors and sinners came to Jesus to hear him, the Pharisees and scribes were outraged and they complained that “this Man receives sinners and eats with them.” (NKJV – used with permission). In the minds of the religious leaders and scholars of his time, Jesus should have stayed away from these detestable people and certainly not mixed with them! So Luke records a series of parables in the rest of the chapter including the first one under consideration in this article.

The Parable of the Prodigal Sons: I have referred to this parable as “sons” rather than “son” because while it is obvious that one son claimed his inheritance and wasted it, the other son was in an even worse predicament. He was illustrating graphically the attitude of the scribes and the Pharisees who had no intention to reach out to the lost, the very reason Jesus had come. Luke records this important fact in 19:10; “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost”.

As we follow the story of the prodigal’s wasted life, we read that he came to himself and returned home. The other brother never left home but he also did not seem to ever have a life! “You never shared a fatted calf with me!” he complained. He also did not realise what his responsibility was that when his brother returned was to rejoice. This illustrates the religious attitude in the time of Jesus which cried out: “look how good and self righteous we are – don’t think of even mixing with the sinners around us in case they contaminate us!” This attitude can easily be identified in the religious minds of many churches and even individuals today.

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The Parable of the Good Samaritan: Here the context is set in Luke 10:25 where a lawyer asks a very important question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In this powerful story taken out of a very possible situation in Palestine in the time of Jesus, Jesus challenges the people in his time and us today, to take a new look at what being a child of God is really all about. Again it is the religious leaders of his time who come under the spotlight. The Levite and priest carefully walked by on the other side of the road from where the wounded man lay, presumably in a hurry to perform their “religious” duties. Then to the amazement of the people living in a deeply racially divided world, Jesus introduced a Samaritan into the picture. The Jews and Samaritans hated each other with a deep passion. To the Jewish listeners’ amazement, the Samaritan took the time and effort to help the man, something they would definitely not have done.

In the parable of the sheep and goats, as recorded in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus taught as he did in this beautiful story that what God requires is mercy rather than religious behaviour (Luke 10:37;Hosea 6:6). A religious movement that leaves the world lying in pain in the road of life, while they “the saved” clap hands and rejoice in their comfortable worship places and services is worthless. It was so in the day of Jesus and it still is today.

So in both these challenging parables Jesus teaches us a lot about God and a lot about ourselves. God loves the sinner so much that he sent his son to die on our behalf. In return he expects us to find the love in our hearts to love our neighbor. Nothing less will do! Unfortunately as Jesus looked at the city of Jerusalem he wept. I wonder what his reaction is to the world today? Do I see a tear or two?


  1. NKJV Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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