Can You Name Jesus' Parable from a One Sentence Description?


By: Torrance Grey

7 Min Quiz

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

The parables of Jesus make up, it is estimated, about one-third of his teachings in the gospels. They appear in three of the four gospels found in the Christian Bible, while other parables have been found in the "non-canonical gospels," like that of Thomas. (Don't worry; we'll only deal with the canonical gospels in this quiz). 

Parables are commonly described as "stories," but some are very short, like two- to three-sentence comparisons. Some are famous, like that of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. Others are less well-known, like the Parable of the Leaven or the Unjust Steward. But in all of them, Jesus uses allegory to get his point across. Why? Christ explains in the gospels that he was giving his wisdom to his followers while keeping it from the unworthy, who "listen, but hear not." To modern Christians, who have been raised hearing the parables in church and receiving explanations from pastors and priests, the point of these allegories might seem obvious. But they were probably much more oblique to people hearing them for the first time, 2000 years ago! It's not for nothing that the early meaning of the word "parable" was "riddle." 

Do you think you remember all the parables of Jesus? We've got a quiz for you, in which you'll have to identify the parable from a one-sentence description. To make things fun, we've thrown in a few bonus questions -- for example, 'Which of the canonical gospels does not contain any parables at all?' (We can't tell you here, it'd be a spoiler!)

Good luck! 

This parable gave us a term for someone who returns to his family, especially after a period of partying.

Though it isn't used much anymore, "prodigal" is a term meaning "spendthrift" or "wasteful." In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the son returns after wasting his inheritance, hoping only to be a laborer in his father's fields, but instead is welcomed home like a prince.


This tale compares the Kingdom Of God to a simple domestic activity, baking.

Leaven (yeast) is used in baking. It spreads through the dough and "activates" it, causing it to rise. This is comparable to Jesus's message spreading through the world and creating, ultimately, the Kingdom of God.


In this story, 99 are risked just to save one.

A shepherd leaves the other 99 sheep of his flock to find one that is lost, and rejoices when he finds it. This is a story about how much God prizes the redemption of one sinner, even beyond how much He values those who are already doing His will.


In this tale, a day's pay doesn't correspond to a day worked.

Jesus tells the story of a landowner who pays the same day's wage to workers he hired at the beginning, the middle and the end of the day. When the workers who toiled the longest complain, the boss tells them it is his right to pay people as he pleases. The lesson extends to God and the heavenly reward He will give those who repent toward the end of their lives, as well as those who were faithful from the beginning.


In this story, a slave fails to learn an obvious lesson.

A slave (or servant might be the better word) is given more time to pay a debt to his master. But then the servant demands payment of 100-denarii debt from another servant, and has him thrown in prison when he can't pay. Naturally, the first servant's hypocrisy does not go unnoticed.


This story is about recognizing value and making a sacrifice for it.

This is another short parable. In it, a merchant finds a pearl of great worth and sells "all that he had" to obtain it. Likewise, the Kingdom of God is worth giving up everything else that you own, Jesus is saying.


This tale is one of several that foreshadow the Second Coming.

Jesus tells of a master who goes on a long journey. The good servant is the one who behaves properly, knowing his master might return at any time. The bad servant drinks and mistreats his fellow slaves, assuming that his master won't be back any time soon -- a misconception, Jesus warns.


This parable has given the English language a name for a kind, altruistic stranger.

This might be the most famous of Jesus's parables. We wouldn't have it if a lawyer, typically nitpicking, hadn't asked Jesus to clarify the commandment to love one's neighbor by asking "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus probably didn't make the lawyer very happy when he said that virtually everyone, even heathen Samaritans, were the man's neighbors.


In this story, Jesus drew on the professional background of his closest disciples.

Simon Peter, Andrew, and James and John (the sons of Zebedee) were all fishermen. The Parable of the Net tells of a fisherman who drew in a great haul, then sorted the good fish from the bad -- as God will do at the end of the age.


Perhaps the moral here is, think twice before refusing an invitation.

When the wedding guests whom a rich man invited to his banquet do not come, he has his servants go into the streets and bring in random strangers. In the same fashion, God will save the unlikely and the sinful when the seemingly pious and respectable do not heed His call.


In this tale, it's important for a farmer to pick the right spots.

The Sower casts his seeds on good soil, rocky soil, soil with choking weeds growing in it and a pathway. Only the seeds cast on good soil take root and survive until maturity. This is a parable about the different kinds of people who hear the message of Jesus, and how they respond to it.


In this allegory, a woman who has ten drachmas cares about every one of them.

In this parable, a woman has ten drachmas, but searches diligently for just one that is lost. In the same way, God strives to bring one sinner back to the fold, despite the number of people who are already saved. (So, no, Jesus didn't really mean it as money-management advice!)


In this tale, a creditor shows unusual kindness.

A man named Simon, hosting Jesus for dinner, criticized Jesus for letting a woman of ill repute kiss his feet and anoint his head with oil. Jesus uses the tale of the two debtors -- one with a large debt, one with a small one, both of which are forgiven -- to explain why this woman's love for him is so great. She has had grave sins forgiven, graver than Simon's, and therefore is right to show Jesus such respect.


This tale compares the coming of spring to the coming of God's kingdom.

This parable is sometimes called the "Budding Fig Tree," to differentiate it from the parable of the Barren Fig Tree. When the fig tree's branches grow green leaves, summer is near, Jesus says. Likewise, the people will see signs that the Kingdom of God is at hand. However, Jesus warns, no one knows "that day and hour."


In this tale, a shrewd money manager negotiates his way out of trouble.

This is an unusual parable; it seems to praise dishonest behavior. About to be fired, a steward lets his master's debtors shave amounts off their debts, making friends among them so that they'll help him out when he is dismissed. Jesus says the master had a certain grudging respect for the steward's cleverness. However, Jesus also concludes with the famous saying that "no man can serve two masters ... God and mammon."


This is another last-shall-be-first parable, involving acceptable and unacceptable prayer.

In this story, a Pharisee prays an almost comically egotistical prayer about how glad he is not be like all the unrighteous people around him, including the publican (tax collector) right next to him. The tax collector, in contrast, beats his chest and asks God for forgiveness. It's not hard to guess whose prayer was acceptable in God's sight.


This story involves an unexpected knocking at a door.

Many of Jesus's parables that involve something unexpected deal with the end times and the return of Christ ("no one knows the hour.") But this one is about prayer. Like a friend who helps another friend who comes knocking in the middle of the night, just to get the man out of his hair, God will reward those who are persistent in prayer.


The smallest becomes the greatest in this allegory about growth.

The mustard seed is "smallest of all seeds," Jesus says, but it grows into a great tree -- like the Kingdom of God growing from humble beginnings. This parable is found in Matthew, Mark and Luke, with Mark telling it in the most detail.


This parable might be a favorite of contractors and construction workers.

The wise builder builds on the rock, and his house withstands storms. The foolish builder builds on sand, and his house collapses. This is a lesson about the importance of founding one's life on God's teachings.


In this story, two very different men's fortunes are reversed after death.

The rich man enjoys plenty in his lifetime, while Lazarus, the beggar, is miserable. After death, Lazarus is taken to Abraham's side while the rich man goes to hell. What makes this parable so uncomfortable to affluent readers is that the rich man is not described as evil, nor Lazarus as necessarily good -- it is simply the rich man's failure to share his wealth that causes him to be condemned to hell. Break out those checkbooks, people!


In this story, an enemy nearly ruins a farmer's good work.

An enemy comes by night to sow weeds (tares) among the good seeds the farmer has planted. The farmer advises his workers not to try to pull up the seedlings of the weeds, as they will be too hard to distinguish from the wheat seedlings. Instead, the separating and the destruction of the weeds will come at harvest time, just as God will sort the good from the wicked at the end of the age.


This parable deals with old and new ways of doing things.

In saying that " ... no man puts new wine into old wineskins," Jesus was responding to criticisms of his disciples: that they did not fast and pray in the same manner as the Pharisees or the followers of John the Baptist. Jesus was suggesting that his followers needed new ways of doing things -- the "new covenant," as Christians like to say.


This short parable could be said to be about "living one's truth."

Jesus was talking about the importance of living God's message, so others would witness it and be converted. Today, it's often used as a way to encourage people not to hide their natural talents. Sidenote: A "bushel" used to mean a bowl; later, it became better known as a unit of measure.


In this parable, Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God grows slowly, under God's care.

This short tale is found only in Mark. It says that the kingdom of God grows like a seed -- a man may plant it, but he does not really make it grow; the earth itself does that, out of man's sight.


This is another parable involving a wedding, but it's about preparedness and the Second Coming.

In this parable, the bridesmaids (virgins) wait for a bridegroom who has been delayed. Five of them carry extra oil for their lamps, while the five "foolish" ones do not. When the bridegroom comes, the five wise bridesmaids are ready. A lyric in Johnny Cash's song "When the Man Comes Around" refers to this parable.


The moral here is, dead men have no need of money nor food.

In this story, a rich man exults over how he will store his abundant grain and enjoy his wealth, only to learn that he is going to die that very night. This parable includes the expression, "This night your life will be required of you," which has long been a favorite of hellfire-and-brimstone preachers.


This story about a judge and petitioner praises the virtue of persistence.

A widow repeatedly asks a judge for a ruling against her "adversary"; the judge finally gives in so she'll stop bothering him. The judge is compared to God, whom Jesus suggests will respond to consistent (or maybe insistent) prayers.


In this story, God is compared to a landowner and Jesus to a gardener.

The fig tree does not bear fruit, so the landowner wants it cut down. The gardener suggests giving it another year and some fertilization, after which, if it still doesn't bear fruit, then it can be cut down. This is the second of Jesus's parables to use a fig tree as a metaphor.


This short parable tells of an unexpected windfall.

In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a treasure found in a field. The new wealth allows the finder to buy the entire field.


Which of these is an "eschatological" parable, or one about the End Times?

Eschatological parables deal with the second coming of Christ and the judgment day. The parable of the Ten Virgins, in which some carry extra oil and are prepared to meet the bridegroom when he appears after a long delay, is one such parable.


Which of the four gospels does not contain parables at all?

The gospel of John (or According to St. John) is the "non-synoptic" gospel, meaning it has far fewer parallels with Matthew, Mark and Luke than those "synoptic" books have with each other. One notable difference is the absence of parables.


This is a parable a Wall Street broker might enjoy.

In this story, a "talent" is a unit of money. The good servants invest the talents their master loaned them, while the foolish one is too scared, and buries his in the ground. When the master returns from a journey, he rewards the industrious servants but punishes the fearful one.


In this story, a landowner's trust is not repaid.

In this parable, a landowner leaves grape-producing land in this care of the tenants, but when the time comes, they do not give him his share of the crop, instead attacking the slaves he sends to collect, and then even his son. Jesus says that the landowner will take the land away from the ungrateful tenants and give it to those who will produce crops and pay their fair share.


The parable of the Importunate Widow and the Friend at Night are both about the power of ______.

Surprisingly, in both these parable Jesus seems to suggest that God can be nagged! Seriously, we're not being disrespectful here: Neither the judge nor the friend, in these stories, is particularly eager to lend assistance. But they do so just because their petitioners are so insistent, and so will God, Jesus says.


Which synoptic gospel contains the largest number of parables?

Luke's gospel has 24 parables, and 18 of them are not found in the other two books. Parables unique to Luke include the Good Samaritan and the Rich Fool.


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