As a child I always looked forward to hearing stories from the bible at Sunday school.
It was only in adulthood though that I began to recognise more of the truths the stories contained and how the valuable lessons they taught us could be applied to modern life.
The following five stories are the ones that have left the greatest impression on me and the parables that I have shared most often with parishioners in the past.
No 1 – The feeding of the five thousand
Referred to in all four gospels, this is a fantastic story that teaches us the value of sharing. It demonstrates the importance of doing all we can to help others who are in need.
When I talk about this story, I often open with a tale about our annual Easter sunrise service.
Several hundred attended the service at the top of our local moor and it was decided one year that communion should be offered.
Because of the large numbers involved some of us would simply break off pieces of teacakes and hand them out.
On this particular occasion, as I handed a piece to a man with a dog, the dog jumped up and snatched the remaining teacake out of my hand and ran away with it.
I can still picture the man now, attempting to apprehend his hungry dog as we all doubled up with laughter.
While that day was more like the feeding of the five hundred than feeding of the five thousand, it reminded me of the true pleasure of sharing.
And it was Jesus that set a magnificent example of this himself all those centuries ago in Galilee.
Wishing for some peace and quiet with his disciples, Jesus took to a boat with them.
But, enthralled by his ministry, thousands of men, women and children followed the group across the lake.
Despite his desire to rest with his disciples on the mountain, Jesus had compassion for the crowd.
The disciples suggested that they tell the people to get lodgings and food in the surrounding villages. But Jesus said, “give them something to eat!”
Phillip asked, “shall we go and buy sufficient bread”. But Jesus indicated that they should find out how much bread there was already amongst the crowd.
They found a young lad with five loaves and two fishes. Jesus blessed the food and there was enough to feed all five thousand people.
The people were amazed by the wonder of this event and saw it as a sign that Jesus, a prophet has come into the world.
Afterwards, Jesus was concerned that the people would take him as their king so he withdrew again to the mountain.
What does this story tell us today? Just as Jesus held compassion for the crowd, we too should care for others and show compassion.
Whilst it is important to care for ourselves, we should not be ‘holier than thou’ and put ourselves before others.
Jesus met the needs of the people by feeding them more than sufficiently.
We too should do all we can to met the needs of others and make sure, through our efforts, that more are fed both physically and spiritually.
Just like Jesus, who withdrew when they wished to take him as king, we too should be aware it is not in our glory or strength that others are fed but in the glory and strength of our saviour.
No 2 – The Prodigal son
The new vicar at Otley Parish Church put a poster outside his church saying: ‘Only sinners welcome here!’
The church warden, seeing the poster, dashed up to the vicarage, and told the vicar, “as warden I must tell you not to put up a poster up like that. It will put folk off coming to church.”
The vicar replied, “Look here, we are all sinners, including, dare I say, church wardens.”
The story of the Prodigal son echoes the vicar’s sentiment, as it teaches us that we must always offer sinners salvation and the opportunity of redemption.
The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus, which made the Pharisees and scribes, who thought they were righteous above all, say, “this man receives sinners and eats with them.”
So Jesus told the parable of the man with two sons. The younger one asked his father for his share of what would later be his inheritance.
He soon squandered the lot. Penniless he ended up feeding pigs and living a squalid life. So he decided to return to his father and offered to be a hired servant.
When his father saw him approaching, he ran to him and embraced him, feeling compassion at his state.
The son said that he had sinned and was no longer worthy to be called his son, but the father adorned him with the best clothes he had and together they celebrated.
Meanwhile his other son was as mad as blazes. He had served his father over many years and there had never been a celebration for him.
The father said to the elder brother: “son, you are always with me and all that is mine is yours. It is fitting to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, is alive; was lost and is found.”
Yes, Jesus rightly mixed with those who the religious bigots condemned. We as Christians must do likewise and give to others, including those in greatest need.
As the father ran to greet the son, our father god goes out of his way to welcome us. And just as the son came to recognise his wanton lifestyle, he offered himself to his father’s mercy and the father celebrated his return.
So to us who are sinful, if we offer ourselves, warts and all and are prepared to change, Christ will offer us his salvation.
We will be redeemed and he will celebrate with us. If we all followed this example as a church, imagine the difference it could make.
No 3 – Jesus Walks on the Water
A close friend of mine was fly fishing from the middle of our local river, with his wife sitting close by watching.
She rushed to the bank when he was suddenly taken by the river, but fortunately he managed to clamber out of the water safely.
Later that day she was explaining to one of her grandsons how Grandad had been swept away by the water and she asked him, “Why do you think Grandma ran to the bank?
The young man’s cheeky reply was instant; “To fish out Grandad’s wallet!”
Jesus’ disciples too found themselves at the mercy of nature’s almighty power in this next story.
Immediately following the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus’ disciples were crossing the lake when a storm hit.
In the daylight of early morning, Jesus walked on the water to them and told them to follow him.
Peter attempted to join Jesus on top of the water, but on realising the state of the sea he began to sink and cried, “Lord, save me.”
Jesus reached out his hand and held him up, and said, “O you of little faith, why do you doubt?”
And the other disciples in the boat said of Jesus, “truly you are the son of God.”
The disciples had witnessed Jesus performing both healing and other miracles, but they were still not able to fully trust him.
Seeing Jesus walk on the water, Peter was convinced, but the moment he left the boat he doubted and sank in the water.
Truly how often does Christ invite us to trust him and to follow him, but through our belief in our own limitations, we fail?
The other disciples recognised Jesus as the son of God. As a church we need to offer Christ to others until they recognise that he truly is the son of God.
No 4 – The Good Samaritan
Some time ago, a friend of ours was rushing to the bank before it shut to pay in his takings, with his four year old son in tow.
There was a man sprawled on the pavement, so he stepped over him in order to get to the bank on time.
His son however would not follow him, for the previous Sunday he had heard in Sunday school the story of the Good Samaritan.
Reluctantly, since his son was making such a fuss in front of others, our friend rang for an ambulance and stayed with the fallen man.
This is a wonderful example of the positive impression the story of the Good Samaritan can leave on children that hear it. The story goes like this…
A lawyer asked Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Knowing he was an expert in the law, Jesus replied by asking, “What is written in the law?”
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbour as yourself”, he said.
“You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live,” instructed Jesus.
“But who are my neighbours?” The lawyer asked, to test Jesus. So Jesus told him the parable of the Good Samaritan.
A man fell upon thieves on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and was badly beaten.
A priest passed by on the other side of the road and so did a Levite, but unlike the other two, a Samaritan came to the man’s rescue.
He saw to the man’s injuries, took him to an inn and paid for him to be cared for.
Jesus used this story, knowing that both the priest and the Levite should have showed compassion rather than ignorance.
Jesus knew that the Samaritans were hated by the Jews, including the lawyer. So Jesus asked him, “who do you think proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell amongst robbers?”
“The one who showed him mercy,” answered the lawyer.
“Then go and do like wise.” Jesus commanded.
Britain today is a diverse, cultured and multi-faith nation. And we who call ourselves the church, should offer help to all regardless of their nationality, culture or faith.
It is said the majority of UK main stream Christian churches are attended mostly by elderly white middle class citizens.
Jesus embraced those who were in greatest need and offered them salvation and at the same time he condemned those who were hypocrites.
If the church is to fulfil its purpose to save souls and heal lives it must reach out into the world to all people.
No 5 – Doubting Thomas
A few years ago an elderly aunt in our family suffered from conjunctivitis. When she entered her doctor’s office she was met by a locum doctor, not her longstanding GP.
The new doctor examined her condition and looked up ‘conjunctivitis’ in his pharmaceutical book, prescribing accordingly.
On passing the receptionist, the aunt said, “that chap doesn’t know what he is doing. He has to look it up in a book and I am not going to put the ointment on!”
She was true to her word and booked an appointment the next week to see her old GP. The consultation was brief, simply a matter of prescribing.
The aunt said that the other ointment had done no good but the GP suspected that she had never applied it.
That same day, she applied the new ointment and it did the trick.
When I called to see her later that week, both tubes of ointment were still there. I examined them both and found that they were the same.
This is a prime example of the effects of doubt and belief and how many of us must see evidence of something before we believe.
The account describing ‘Doubting Thomas’ teaches us a similar lesson about faith.
Thomas called Didymus was not with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them after his crucifixion.
So when the disciples told him that they had seen the Lord he did not believe them.
Thomas declared, “unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side I will not believe.”
But a week later in the same house, Jesus appeared and greeted each disciple with the words, “peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.
Without doing so, Thomas replied, “My Lord. My God.”
Jesus then said, “have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.”
This story reflects the human condition of disbelief. All of us suffer from it. We are just like Thomas, demanding proof before we believe.
As a church, the inherent difficulty we face is that to know Christ we have to believe. But how do we display him? We sing hymns, we say the liturgy, share the communion and serve the community.
However, for the vast majority of people of this nation they fail to recognise this as Christ centred. Most simply do not believe.
Let us conquer doubt by speaking openly of why and how we came to believe and the change that this has made to us and others.
If we know lives are changed through believing in Christ, do we not owe it to aid those who do not yet believe?
All of us doubt from time to time, but it is when we turn to Christ he restores our faith and conquers our disbelief. We owe it to others to lead them to believe too.
The Reverend Priestly Brook, an Anglican priest, retired in August 2012 from the Colne and Villages Team Ministry in East Lancashire. His Bishop has granted him a licence with ‘Permission to Officiate’. He is married to Christine, with six grown up children. He is a well known preacher and after dinner speaker in the North of England.