Parables for children


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PARABLES THAT JESUS TOLD

(An 8-week programme)

Parables are not descriptions of true events but are based on them and told in such a way that they reveal important truth about human affairs and relationships. In telling parables, Jesus showed that our behaviour to one another is important to God because it should be a reflection of His love, grace and kindness to us.

Parables are not always easy to understand and children benefit from having the stories told imaginatively. The interpretations should be rooted in their own daily experiences as far as possible. The deeper and more profound interpretations of the parables can wait until they are older.

The Lost Sheep (Luke 15: 3-7)

Main theme~ God cares for every person as an individual, so we should do the same

The Lost Son (Luke 15: 11-32)

Main theme~ God forgives us and we should forgive one another

The Wise and Foolish Builders (Matthew 7: 24-27)

Main theme~ God is our Rock, especially when life is hard

The Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18: 21-35)

Main theme~ We must have mercy on others, just as God has mercy on us

 The Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37)

Main theme~ God is pleased when we show kindness to others, especially people we don’t much like

The Sower and the Seed (Matthew 13: 1-23)

Main theme~ If we are ready and willing to listen and obey God, we will grow up to be strong and good

The Two Sons (Matthew 21: 28-32)

Main theme~ We should be people of our word

The Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30)

Main theme~ If we don’t use the abilities that God has given us, we might end up losing them!

 

Luke 15: 1-7      PARABLE OF THE LOST SHEEP

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14)

A possible ‘way in’ to the parable for children…

  • Put your hand up if you have ever been shopping and got lost?
  • What did it feel like?
  • Give an example from your own experience as a child…
  • What did it feel like to be ‘found’?

1-3 By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story.

 4-7 “Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

Teaching points:

  1. We all matter to God.
  2. No one is more or less important than another person.
  3. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who cares for us like a shepherd cares for lambs and sheep

A way to lead into the memory verse: Scarf or short rope needed

  • “Simon Says” game
  • Follow my leader… first with eyes closed (holding on to a scarf held by the leader)… this is NOT the way to follow Jesus
  • Follow my leader… with eyes open but going the same way as the leader … this IS the way to follow Jesus
  • Memory verse…

JESUS SAID: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10: 14)

Scoring (points in brackets)

1 = K (2)

2 = J (1)

3 = O (4)

4 = I (3)

5 = T (1)

6 = R (1)

7 = U (1)

8 = E  (9)

9 = W (2)

10 = S (6)

11 = A (3)

12 = D (4)

13 = N (3)

14= H (5)

15 = G (1)

16 = M (3)

17 = Y (2)

18 = P (3)

Luke 15: 11-32  PARABLE OF THE LOST SON(S)

A possible ‘way in’ to the parable…

  • Pass around a tasty treat (soft and easily consumed!) for children to eat
  • Now ask if anyone wants some eggshells (or similarly unappetising item) to eat… If they were desperately hungry, they wouldn’t be so fussy!
  • Put your hand up if you like parties… What is your favourite food?
  • Put your hand up if you’ve been to a party…Tell us what was good about it
  • Jesus told a story about a man who loved his food and fun, until one day it all went wrong

11-12 Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’

 12-16 “So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.

 17-20 “That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

 20-21 “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

 22-24 “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick.

Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.

 25-27 “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

 28-30 “The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

 31-32 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!”

Teaching points:

  1. Emphasise that both the brothers had problems: the younger brother was irresponsible; the older brother was unforgiving
  2. God is like a loving Father and always happy when we come to Him, even when we have done silly things
  3. For children from single-parent households, it might be necessary to say “or favourite uncle… or grandad…” The important thing is to present God as someone who is approachable, caring and interested in each one of us.

 

Matthew 7: 24-27      PARABLE OF THE WISE AND FOOLISH BUILDERS      

A possible ‘way in’ to the parable…

  • Put your hand up if you remember seeing floods on the television?
  • Has anyone seen a flood in real life?
  • Imagine sitting in your house or car and the rain is so heavy that your house or car starts to float away! Or walking along and being blown over by the wind!
  • Did you know that as much of a tree is beneath the ground as above it… to keep it from crashing over when the winds blow hard
  • A house has to have foundations deep into the ground for the same reason… and that’s what Jesus talked about in this parable…

24 So then, anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man, who built his house on rock. 25 The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, and the wind blew hard against that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock.

26 But anyone who hears these words of mine and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, the wind blew hard against that house, and it fell. And what a terrible fall that was!

Teaching points:

  1. Jesus talked about houses but He was really talking about people being honest when they say they follow Jesus
  2. Jesus was explaining that if you just say you believe in God and Jesus but carry on as if you don’t, you can end up being very unhappy (like the house that crashed)
  3. But if you trust God, you can still be happy even when things are difficult

 

Matthew 18:21-35        PARABLE OF THE UNFORGIVING SERVANT

A possible ‘way in’ to the parable…

  • Put your hand up I you have you ever done something naughty and had to say ‘sorry’?
  • Were you really sorry… or just sorry you’d been found out!
  • Imagine someone saying ‘sorry’ (and really meaning it) but the other person replying, “No, I won’t forgive you! Go away!”
  • This parable is about someone just like that… but even worse!

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked: ‘Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?’

 22 ‘No, not seven times’, answered Jesus, ‘but seventy times seven 23 because the Kingdom of heaven is like this…

Once there was a king who decided to check on his servants’ accounts. 24 He had just begun to do so when one of them was brought in who owed him millions of pounds. 25 The servant did not have enough to pay his debt, so the king ordered him to be sold as a slave, with his wife and his children and all that he had, in order to pay the debt. 26 The servant fell on his knees before the king. Be patient with me, he begged, and I will pay you everything! 27 The king felt sorry for him, so he forgave him the debt and let him go.

 28 Then the man went out and met one of his fellow servants who owed him a few pounds. He grabbed him and started choking him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he said.

29 His fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’

30 But he refused; instead, he had him thrown into jail until he should pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were very upset and went to the king and told him everything.

32 So he called the servant in. ‘You worthless slave!’ he said. ‘I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to.  33 You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you’.

34 The king was very angry, and he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount.

 35 And Jesus concluded: ‘That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive others from your heart’.

Reinforcing the story through drama…using adults or older children

“Hey (name of another adult 2), you owe me a thousand pounds!”

“I’m really sorry, adult 1, I just haven’t got the money to pay you”

“Okay, forget it; just don’t get into debt again!”

“Hey (adult 2 to adult 3), you owe me five pounds!”

“I’m really sorry, adult 2, please give me more time to pay you back.”

“No way! If you don’t give me the money right now, I’ll report you to the police!”

Teaching points:

  1. Imagine if everyone behaved in this way!
  2. People were unkind and horrible to Jesus yet he gave his life on the Cross for them.
  3. We need to be thankful to God for all his love to us and try hard to be patient and kind to other people.

 

Luke 10: 25-37   THE GOOD SAMARITAN

A possible ‘way in’ to the parable for children…

  • Have you ever heard a child asking a grown-up a cheeky question?
  • Would you ever dare ask Jesus a cheeky question? (Not likely!)
  • But sometimes people did, especially those who thought that they were better than everybody else…
  • Jesus told a story to show them that pleasing God is not by keeping lots of silly rules but when we help others

25 Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

 26 Jesus answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

 27 The scholar said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbour as well as you do yourself.”

 28 “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you will live.”

 29 Looking for a way to trick Jesus, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbour’?”  

 30-32 Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he moved across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

 33-35 “A Samaritan travelling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

 36 “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbour to the man attacked by robbers?”

 37 “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

   Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”

Reinforcing the parable through drama… Adult narrating, children playing the parts. Implement two rules during the acting: (a) No physical contact during the attack scene! (b) No laughter (or the drama element is lost). The scene can, of course, be acted out twice.

Teaching points:

  1. Jews and Samaritans did not like each other… but the man in the story was different
  2. A ‘neighbour’ is not just someone who lives next door… we can and should be kind and good to anyone we meet
  3. Even if we don’t like someone, the Spirit of God helps us to do what is right.

 

Matthew 13: 1-23       THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER & THE SEED

A possible ‘way in’ to the parable…

  • Put your hand up if the teacher has ever told you something that you don’t understand. What did you do? (Ask the teacher; ask a friend; mess about!)
  • Sometimes, we think we understand something but then we realise that we don’t at all!
  • Jesus told this story to show that our lives are much better when we really know and understand what He tells us…

1 That same day Jesus left the house and went to the lakeside, where he sat down to teach.

2 The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it, while the crowd stood on the shore. 3 He used parables to tell them many things…

‘Once there was a man who went out to sow grain. 4 As he scattered the seed in the field, some of it fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some of it fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil. The seeds soon sprouted, because the soil wasn’t deep.

6 But when the sun came up, it burned the young plants; and because the roots had not grown deep enough, the plants soon dried up. 7 Some of the seed fell among thorn bushes, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 But some seeds fell in good soil, and the plants bore grain: some had one hundred grains, others sixty, and others thirty’.

 9 And Jesus concluded: ‘Listen, then, if you have ears!’

18 ‘Listen, then, and learn what the parable of the sower means. 19 Those who hear the message about the Kingdom but do not understand it are like the seeds that fell along the path. The Evil One comes and snatches away what was sown in them. 20 The seeds that fell on rocky ground stand for those who receive the message gladly as soon as they hear it. 21 But it does not sink deep into them, and they don’t last long. So when trouble or persecution comes because of the message, they give up at once. 22 The seeds that fell among thorn bushes stand for those who hear the message; but the worries about this life and the love for riches choke the message, and they don’t bear fruit. 23 And the seeds sown in the good soil stand for those who hear the message and understand it: they bear fruit, some as much as one hundred, others sixty, and others thirty’.

Visual aids: Use a plastic flower; withered cut flower; and plant with roots to demonstrate: ‘pretending’ (plastic); understanding but not properly (withered plant); and really understanding (plant with roots).

Teaching points:

  1. Emphasise that when we are not sure, God wants us to ask him.
  2. He will show us the right way to live.
  3. He wants our lives to be rooted in Him so that we grow strong, happy and doing what pleases him and benefits others.

 

Matthew 21: 28-32              PARABLE OF THE TWO SONS

A possible ‘way in’ to the parable…

  • Do you know anyone who is a farmer?
  • What sort of crops do farmers grow?
  • This story that Jesus told is about a farmer who had two sons; but the goody becomes the baddy and the baddy becomes the goody!

I will tell you a story about a man who had two sons. Then you can tell me what you think. The father went to the older son and said, “Go work in the vineyard today!” 29 His son told him that he would not do it, but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The man then told his younger son to go work in the vineyard. The boy said he would, but he didn’t go. 31 Which one of the sons obeyed his father?

   “The older one,” the chief priests and leaders answered.

   Then Jesus told them:

   You can be sure that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you ever will! 32 When John the Baptist showed you how to do right, you would not believe him. But these evil people did believe. And even when you saw what they did, you still would not change your minds and believe.

Teaching points…

  • If you’ve ever been in the sweet or toy shop and had to decide what you want, you probably change your minds several times!
  • Perhaps you play games with your friends where you pretend to be a Superhero or an animal or a film star
  • Jesus was dealing with some people who pretended to be good when they were not good at all!
  • Jesus told them that God is pleased with people who do bad things but are then truly sorry… He is not pleased with people who seem to be good but think bad thoughts and do bad things when they think they can get away with it!
  • Show the children (say) a cereal packet…but inside it’s full of (say) old newspaper… God wants us to be genuine with Him and other people…

Matthew 25: 14-30     PARABLE OF THE TALENTS

A possible ‘way in’ to the parable…

  • Put your hand up if you are good at sums (select a sensible child to answer or encourage a group response; if one child answers correctly, ask: “Who was going to give that answer?” and praise everyone)
  • What is 1000 times 2? 2000 add 2000?
  • What is 1000 times 5? 5000 add 5000?
  • Have you ever had money as a present? What did you spend it on, or did you save it?
  • This story that Jesus told is about three men who were given the same amount of money but did different things with it…

14 The kingdom is also like what happened when a man went away and put his three servants in charge of all he owned. 15 The man knew what each servant could do. So he handed five thousand coins to the first servant, two thousand to the second, and one thousand to the third. Then he left the country.

    16 As soon as the man had gone, the servant with the five thousand coins used them to earn five thousand more. 17 The servant who had two thousand coins did the same with his money and earned two thousand more. 18 But the servant with one thousand coins dug a hole and hid his master’s money in the ground.

    19 Some time later the master of those servants returned. He called them in and asked what they had done with his money. 20 The servant who had been given five thousand coins brought them in with the five thousand that he had earned. He said, “Sir, you gave me five thousand coins, and I have earned five thousand more.”

    21 “Wonderful!” his master replied. “You are a good and faithful servant. I left you in charge of only a little, but now I will put you in charge of much more. Come and share in my happiness!”

    22 Next, the servant who had been given two thousand coins came in and said, “Sir, you gave me two thousand coins, and I have earned two thousand more.”

    23 “Wonderful!” his master replied. “You are a good and faithful servant. I left you in charge of only a little, but now I will put you in charge of much more. Come and share in my happiness!”

    24 The servant who had been given one thousand coins then came in and said, “Sir, I know that you are hard to get along with. You harvest what you don’t plant and gather crops where you haven’t scattered seed. 25 I was frightened and went out and hid your money in the ground. Here is every single coin!”

    26 The master of the servant told him, “You are lazy and good-for-nothing! You know that I harvest what I don’t plant and gather crops where I haven’t scattered seed. 27 You could have at least put my money in the bank, so that I could have earned interest on it.”

    28 Then the master said, “Now your money will be taken away and given to the servant with ten thousand coins! 29 Everyone who has something will be given more, and they will have more than enough. But everything will be taken from those who don’t have anything. 30 You are a worthless servant, and you will be thrown out into the dark where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain.”

Teaching points:

  1. Visual aids to assist telling the story… Have a series of cards (or A4 paper) with the relevant numbers on, namely: 5000 / 10,000 / 25,000.  Hold up the cards at the appropriate moment.
  2. Emphasise that we can all use our abilities to help others (give or invite examples)
  3. God is good to us, so we must be kind and helpful too.

 

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