Retold Parables

I sometimes had trouble wrapping my mind around Gospel stories that had cultural elements too far removed from modern American society. So I tried rewriting some of them with modern roughly equivalent words and concepts -- including negative modern stereotypes that I know are exactly that: stereotypes only.

Nothing substitutes for personal study, using scholarly sources. This is not a scholarly source, and is NOT meant as a translation. It is a thought experiment, an attempt to understand the material better.

New, INTERACTIVE version: Personalized Retold Parables (click here)

Luke 7:31-34 (On the standards by which we judge)

To what can I compare the people nowadays? They are like the kids playing on the sidewalk, saying, "We did a pretend wedding and you didn't dance, and then we did a pretend funeral and you didn't cry."
John the Baptist came to you, fasting and abstaining from alcohol, and you said he was a total nutcase.
I came to you eating good food and drinking alcohol, and you say, "Look, he's a pig and an alcoholic, a friend of slimy politicians and crooked trial lawyers!"

Luke7:36-50 (Forgiveness and Love)

One of the preachers asked Jesus to dine with him at a restaurant. So Jesus went over and sat down to eat.
One of the waitresses at the restaurant happened to be a woman known for her scandalously tarnished past. When she saw him, she begged the manager to take over their service. She then catered to Jesus' every need, bringing him the best foods and drinks on her own tab, and showering him with attention and respect. She kept serving them whole-heartedly long after she could have gone home. Even though she was very polite and cheerful to the guests, she kept crying when no one was watching.
The preacher who had invited Jesus out to dinner saw this and thought, "If Jesus really were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman this is who is serving him. She's sexually immoral, and causes everyone problems!"
Jesus said, "I have something to say."
The preacher said, "Go ahead."
"There's a lender and two guys who owe him. One owes five thousand dollars, the other owes only fifty.
"The lender finds out that neither can repay him. He forgives them and erases their debts. Tell me, which of the two will love the lender more?"
The preacher answered, "I suppose the one who had the larger debt cancelled."
Jesus said, "You're right. Now, do you see this woman? You have not lifted one finger for me, but this woman has served me non-stop for all this time, never resting. You have not offered to buy my dinner, but she has bought me the finest foods and drinks on her own tab. She has stayed long beyond her quitting time, and has shed many tears for me.
"Her many sins are forgiven, so therefore she has loved much. But the one who has had very little forgiven, loves little." And he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
And those who sat at the table murmured amongst themselves, "Who is he that he thinks he has the right to forgive sins?"
And Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

Luke 9:62 (Working for God)

"No one who starts driving his car to work but keeps looking back at his house is fit to work for God."
Or: "No one who sits down at this computer to work but keeps web surfing instead is fit to work for God."

Luke 11:30 - 36 (Who's a Neighbor? (The Good Samaritan))

Jesus told this story:
A guy from Washington was traveling in New York when a gang mugged him, wounded him, and left him lying in an alleyway, unconscious and stripped of his clothes and money.
A Catholic happened to come by, and when he saw the man lying in the alley, he crossed to the other side of the street and went on his way.
Next, a Protestant happened by, and seeing the man lying in the alley, he also crossed to the other side of the street and went on his way.
But a lawyer came by and, seeing the victim, had compassion for him. He bandaged the wounds, got a taxi, and took the man to a hospital. After the man was treated, the lawyer put him up in a hotel room. The next day, when he left, he gave his credit card number to the hotel manager and said, "I have to go back to a conference, but let this person stay as long as he needs to. I'll pay for the all the costs."
Now, which of these three acted as a neighbor to the mugging victim?

Luke 11:33-36 (Lamps)

No one, when he turns on a lamp, covers it up. The lamp is put on a place where those who come in can see the light.
The lamp of the body and soul is your eye, your attitude and perception toward life. Therefore, when your eye (outlook) is good, your whole soul is also full of light. But when your eye (outlook and perceptions) are bad, your whole soul is full of darkness.
Therefore, make sure that the "light" within you isn't actually darkness.
If your whole soul is full of light, with no darkness, then your soul will shine like a lamp.

Luke 11:39-48 (Hypocrisy)

Note: This came out pretty harsh, but I think most people have heard or seen horror stories of hypocritical, mean, or just plain misguided religious leaders...

Now you priests wash the outside of your bodies to be clean and presentable, but the inside is full of greed and evil.
Foolish people! Did not God make both the outside and the inside?
You should give from the things you have, and in fact, everything is OK to have.
But suffering will come to you hypocrites. You donate heavily to the Church but you don't uphold justice and love God. You should do those in addition to your tithing.
Suffering will come to you hypocrites! You show off your priestly vestments and you love to be greeted with respect in the town.
Suffering will come to you hypocrites! You are like dead bodies that are buried so deep that people do not realize what they're walking on.
(Then a preacher said to Jesus, "Sir, by saying these things you are also insulting us.")
And Jesus said: Suffering comes to you preachers! For you put impossible demands on your congregations, and you yourselves do not even help them to bear the burden.
Suffering to you! For you pay lip service to the true prophets, but it is people with your attitude who killed those very prophets.

Luke 12:22-34 (Don't worry about the material world)

Hence, I tell you to not worry about your life, about what you will eat; nor about your body, about what you should wear.
Life is more than about eating, and the body is more than about looking good.
Think about crows, which don't work for a living; God feeds them. You are more valuable than birds!
And which of you by just worrying can make yourself grow taller? If you are unable to do such a thing as that, why do you bother worrying?
Think of wildflowers and how they grow; they don't work and go shopping for clothes, yet even top models can't compare to how they look.
If God makes the flowers so beautiful, when they are so fleeting and die away quickly, how much more beautiful will he make you, O you of little faith?
And do not fret about what you will have for dinner or what you want to drink. Do not fret at all.
For all these things are what the world goes running after, and your Father knows that you need them.
But rather seek to work for God, and all these things will be given to you.
Do not fear, for your Father is glad to give you all these things.
Sell what you have and give to the needy; give yourselves bank accounts that don't go empty and wallets that don't wear out: a money fund in Heaven that never fails, which scandal and natural disasters can't touch.
For where your treasure is, there your heart is also.

Luke 13:1-5 (On Misfortunte)

Note: I recently heard the theory that Jesus told the audience they would meet a bad ending (unless they changed) because they were so eager to ascribe sin and blame to the victims of suffering -- in other words, they were quick to condemn, and hence faced condemnation of their own.

There was a big news story about people in a foreign country who were killed by terrorists. They told Jesus of this event.
And Jesus said to them: "Are you thinking those victims were somehow worse sinners than all the other people, because they suffered like that?
"No, they weren't, but unless you turn away from doing evil you will all meet a bad ending, too.
"Or those eighteen people on that deadly plane crash, do you think they were more evil than anyone else?
"No, they weren't, but unless you turn away from doing evil you will all meet a bad ending, too."

Luke 13:6-9 (Bearing Fruit ... Getting Results)

He also told this story:
A guy had an apple tree in his back yard, and he expected it to produce apples but got none.
Then he said to his wife, "This tree hasn't produced any fruit in three years. Why don't we cut it down and plant something else there instead? That tree is just taking up space."
But his wife said, "Let's leave it in one more year, and give it plenty of fertilizer, organic matter, and water. If it bears fruit, great. But if it doesn't, then let's cut it down."

Luke 13:18-21 (What Is the Realm of God Like?)

Then he said, "What is the realm of God like? What can I compare it to?
"It's like a common little acorn that a guy planted in his yard, and it grew and became a huge tree, so big that the birds nested in its branches."
And again he said, "What can I compare the realm of God to?
"It's like the yeast that a woman kneaded into dough, until it was all thoroughly mixed in. You can't see it, but you will see its results."

Luke 13:23-30 (The Narrow Gate)

Someone asked him, "Lord, are there only a few who will be saved?" And he said,
Work to enter in at the narrow gate. Many people will try to get in that way and won't be able to.
Once the captain has taxied the airplane away from the gate, you'll stand there and say, "Sir, sir, please let us on board." But the captain will say, "Sorry, I don't know who you are."
Then you'll say, "We're your friends and neighbors! You know us!"
But he'll reply, "I'll tell you again, I don't know you, or why you did what you did. Go away, all you who spread unhappiness and injustice."
Then there will be a lot of crying when you see all the great Biblical heroes in God's realm, and you left outside of it.
And people will continue to come from all over the Earth to live in God's realm.
Indeed, there are those who are last who will be first, and there are those who are first who will be last.

Luke 14:16-24 (Accepting the Big Invitation)

A millionaire decided to throw a big, fabulous, wonderful party, and invited all his friends. He carefully sent out invitations. The day of the party, he called up his friends and said, "Everything's all set, come on by!"
But everyone began to make excuses. The first said, "I'm buying a house and I need to get it inspected. Sorry, I can't come."
Another said, "I just bought a new car, and I need to test drive it. Sorry, I can't make it."
Another said, "I just got married and we're just too busy now. Sorry, I can't make it after all."
The millionaire got very angry. So now he sent out invitations to the entire city, inviting the street people and all the sick people from the hospitals. And still there was room at the party, so he hired people to bring in everyone they could off the street, so that his party would not go to waste.
And none of the people who were originally invited got to enjoy that party.

Luke 14:26-33 (Priorities)

If anyone comes to me and yet would rather follow his parents, his spouse, his kids, or his brothers and sisters, or even would rather just follow his own head, he cannot be my student.
Whoever does not bear his own great burden (the task that must be done even though it leads to suffering and death) and follow after me cannot be my student.
If you are going to do big home improvement project, don't you sit down and make sure you have enough to pay for it? If you don't, others will laugh at you and say, "You began the work but didn't have the resources to follow through."
Or think of this. What general doesn't make sure his army is strong enough to beat back his opponent's army, which is twice as large? If he has real doubts, he surrenders before the fight and asks for peace.
The same with you. If you don't give up everything to follow me, you cannot be my student.

Luke15:4-10 (Seeking the Lost)

"If you had beloved dogs or cats and one went missing, wouldn't you leave your other pets at home and go searching everywhere for the missing one? And when you find it, you'll joyfully bring it home in your car, and tell all your friends and neighbors, `Let's celebrate! I've found my lost pet!'
In the same way, there is more joy in Heaven over one lost soul who returns to God than over the many who never got lost.
Or suppose you have a pair of diamond earrings and you lose one of them. Won't you turn the house upside down looking for it? And when you find it, you call all your friends and neighbors and say, "Let's celebrate! I found my lost earring!"
In the same way, there is celebration among the angels of God when one lost soul turns back to God."

Luke 15:11-32 (The Prodigal Son)

A millionaire had two sons. The younger son said to his dad, "Dad, please give me my inheritance now." His dad gave it to him as he'd asked. Soon after that, the younger son went out to South America and wasted all his money living the high life.
But when he'd spent it all, a depression hit the economy, and he began to feel the pinch. He went to a local farmer, who had him feed pigs. He was so hungry he was tempted to eat the swill the pigs were eating, but he couldn't get any food.
He suddenly realized, "My dad has lots of money and food to spare, and here I am starving. I'm going to go back home and say to him, `Dad, I have done terrible things against you and God, and I'm not worthy to be called your son. Please, take me on as hired help and treat me no better than that.' And he scraped together just enough money to fly back home.
But his dad heard that he was coming home, and met him at the airport and kissed him with joy.
And the son said, "Dad, I have done terrible things against you and God, and I'm not worthy to be called your son."
But his dad had brought him fresh clothing, and had even cashed out some expensive stocks to provide a great party in celebration, with lots of food and drink for all the guests. He told everyone at home: "Let's have this big party, for my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." And they began to have the celebration.
The older son happened to come back from a business meeting around this time, and he heard the music and dancing. He talked to one of the party goers, who told him how his dad had cashed out his stock in order to finance the big party.
Then he got angry and would not go in. But his dad came out and pleaded with him.
The older son said to his father, "Look, Dad, I've always been a good son. I've always done everything you wanted, and yet you have never gone so far as to throw a party for me and my friends. But as soon as your other son came home, after spending all your money on prostitutes and living the high life, you cashed out your precious stock for him."
His dad replied, "Son, you are always with me, and everything of mine is yours. It was proper for us to celebrate, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found."

Luke 18:10-14 (True Repentence)

Two men went to Church to pray, one a pious Christian, the other a used car salesman.
The pious man prayed this way: "God, thank You for making me unlike the sinners around me, those who are unjust, or morally deviant, or even like this used car salesman here. I don't eat meat on Fridays, I go to Church on Sundays, and I give 10% of my earnings to the Church."
The used car salesman, meanwhile, could not even raise his eyes to Heaven, but instead bowed his head in shame and cried, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"
I tell you, the used car salesman went home with God's mercy rather than the other man, for everyone who honors himself will be brought low, and he who humbles himself will be honored.

Luke 19:1-10 (Choosing the Good)

Jesus entered into the city of Boston. There was a man there named Zach who was the owner of a big chain of car dealerships, who was very rich.
He tried to see Jesus, but he couldn't see over the crowds. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus, who was walking down the sidewalk.
When Jesus came to where Zach was perched in the tree, he looked up and said, "Zach, come down quickly, for today I need to stay at your house."
Zach came down quickly and received Jesus joyfully.
When the crowds saw it, they grumbled, saying, "Jesus is being a guest with a man who is a crooked sinner."
Zach stood and said to Jesus, "Lord, I hereby give half of my wealth and possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone unfairly, I am going to give him back four times what I got from him."
And Jesus said to him, "Today this man's household has been saved, for he has shown himself to be of God, and because I have come to seek and to save that which was lost."

Luke 20:46-47 (On Hypocrisy)

Beware of the priests who want to wear the priestly garments, who love being treated respectfully, who have the place of honor in church, and who take the best seats at feasts, who use up poor people's donations, and who make long prayers for show. They will receive the heavier sentence.

Matthew 5:43-48 (Love Your Enemies)

You have heard people say, "Love your friends and hate your enemies," but I say, "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be examples and heirs of your Father who is in Heaven; for He sends sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he gives rain to both the fair and the unfair.
If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don't even the worst lawyers do the same?
And if you're nice only to your family, what is it you're doing that's so special? Don't even the worst lawyers do the same?
Therefore you should be whole and impartial, just as your Father in Heaven is whole and impartial.

Matthew 6:1-8 (Work in Secret)

Make sure you're not doing acts of charity for the sake of being seen by others. Otherwise, your Father in Heaven will not reward you.
When you do an act of charity, don't announce it in the papers or give out a press release like hypocrites do when they seek honor from other people. Let me tell you, they have received their reward.
But when you do an act of charity, let it be so secret that your left hand doesn't even know that your right hand has written a check, and your Father, who quietly sees all that is hidden, will reward you openly.
And when you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who make a big deal of praying on the street, or on TV, in an effort to be seen. Let me tell you, they have their reward.
But you, when you pray, go into your room and shut your door, and pray to your Father who is hidden, and your Father who quietly sees all that is hidden will reward you openly.
When you pray, don't keep repeating your prayers over and over. People who do that think they will be heard because they've said it so many times. Don't be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you even ask Him.
Instead, pray like this:
Our Father in Heaven,
May your name be kept sacred
May your Kingdom come
and your orders be followed
On Earth, as in Heaven.
Give us our sustenance for today
And forgive us our debts
As we forgive our debtors.
Don't lead us into temptation(alt: lead us out of temptation)
but deliver us from evil.
For you have the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, forever.

If you forgive others the bad things they do to you, your Father in Heaven will also forgive you. But if you don't forgive others the bad things they have done, neither will your Father forgive you.
When you fast or abstain from your favorite foods, don't be like the hypocrites who make a big deal of it. For they tell everyone that they're fasting, and they make a show of refusing their meals. Let me tell you, they have received their reward.
But you, when you fast, keep up your normal appearance, and don't mention that you are doing anything out of the ordinary. Your Father, who quietly sees all that is hidden, will reward you openly.

Matthew 18:23-35 (Forgiving Others)

God's Heavenly Nation is like the story of a landlord who wanted to check on all his tenants' accounts.
When he had begun to go through his files, a tenant was brought to him who owed him ten thousand dollars in rent.
But since he couldn't pay, the landlord was going to have him and his whole family evicted, and was going to go to court to collect the man's wages until the debt was paid.
But the tenant begged him, saying, "Sir, have patience on me, and I will pay you back everything.."
Then the landlord had compassion for him and forgave him the debt and let him stay.
But then the tenant went out and found a sub-letter who not only lived in his own back room, but who owed him a hundred bucks. He grabbed the man by the collar and demanded, "Pay me back what you owe me!"
The other guy begged him desperately, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you back everything."
But the first tenant refused to listen. He dumped the man out onto the street and went to civil court to claim the man's wages.
When the other apartment tenants heard about this, they were very upset. They told the landlord all that had happened.
Then the landlord call the first tenant and said, "You wretched man! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me to. Shouldn't you also have had compassion on your fellow tenant, just as I had pity on you?"
And he was so angry that he not only kicked the tenant out, but he also filed a suit and collected the man's wages until everything was at last paid off.
So God will also do to you if each of you does not forgive others from the bottom of your heart.

Matthew 20:1-16 (Last and First)

God's Heaven is like the story of a construction foreman who went out to hire some workers for his year-long construction project.
In the first month, he hired some workers with the agreement they would earn $20,000 for their year-long work.
In the third month, he saw a bunch of guys loitering at the mall, and said to them, "I'll pay you fairly if you work for me." And they went.
He did the same thing in the sixth and ninth month.
And in the month before the work was completed, he found more idle people, and said to them, "Why are you just hanging out here at the mall?"
They said to him, "Because we don't have jobs."
He said to them, "I'll pay you fairly if you work for me."
So at the end of the year, when the building was finished, he said to the treasurer, "Call the workers and give them their bonuses, beginning with the last hired and going to the first hired."
When those came up who were hired in the previous month, they each received a bonus that brought their total wages up to $20,000.
But when the first came, they supposed they would also receive the same bonus, but they did not; their wages totaled $20,000 for the whole year. When they saw this, they grumbled against the foreman, saying, "Those guys only worked a month, and you gave them as much money as we did, when we worked the whole year, through the cold winter and hot summer."
But the foreman answered one of them and said, "Friend, I am not doing you wrong. Didn't you say you'd work for me for $20,000? Take your money and go on your way. I want to give to those I last hired the same as what I gave to you. Can't I do what I want with my own money? Or do you think evil of me just because I am generous and impartial?"
So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few are chosen.

Matthew 24:45-52 (Responsibility)

Who is the faithful and wise manager, who has been appointed by the president of the board to manage the office while the president is away?
That manager will be well rewarded by the president of the board, when the president returns and finds him doing his job. It's guaranteed that the president will promote him and let him manage the whole company.
But if that manager begins to think, "The president of the board isn't coming back for a while," and he begins to harass and boss around the other workers, and he starts siphoning money out of the accounts, and takes work days off to go golfing, the president will return on an unexpected day, at an unexpected time, and will fire him, have him arrested, and will see to it that he is treated like a hypocrite. There will be a lot of agony and regret for that manager.

Matthew 25:1-13 (Forethought and Investment)

Heaven can be compared to this story about ten honor guards who were supposed to provide a parade escort for a royal VIP going from the airport to a corporate party at a hotel.
Five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish drove their cars up to the airport without filling their fuel tanks. But the wise filled up their tanks.
While they were waiting, they left their engines running, because it was a frigidly cold day. They waited a very long time. At last, the dispatcher reported on the radio: "The VIP's plane has landed; get ready!"
And the foolish said to the wise, "Can you siphon us some of your gas? We're running low."
But the wise answered, saying, "No, there may not be enough for us and you. Go to the nearest gas station and fill up."
And while the foolish guards went to get gas, the VIP came out, and those who were ready provided the parade escort. Then they were invited into the party, and the door was shut.
Afterward the other guards came by, saying, "Sir, sir, please let us in!"
But the VIP answered and said, "I don't know who you are."
So you should watch carefully, for you have no idea when the Christ is coming.

John 15:5 (The "True Vine")

I am the tree trunk, and you are the branches. The one who lives in my teachings, who has me within his heart, will produce a lot of fruit; without me, you can do nothing.
If anyone does not live in me, he is like a broken branch that is gathered up for firewood.