We saw how Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught with unique authority. He also taught using stories that illustrated true principles. For example, we saw how he taught about the Kingdom of God using the story of a Great Banquet, and about forgiveness through the story of the Unmerciful Servant. These stories are called parables, and Isa al Masih (PBUH) is unique among prophets and teachers in how much he used parables to teach, and how striking his parables are.
Surah Al-‘Ankabut (Surah 29 – The Spider) tells us that Allah also uses parables. It says
And such are the Parables We set forth for mankind, but only those understand them who have knowledge. (Surah Al-Ankabut 29: 43)
Surah Ibrahim (Surah 14) tell us us how Allah uses the parable of a tree to teach us.
Seest thou not how God sets forth a parable? – A goodly word like a goodly tree, whose root is firmly fixed, and its branches (reach) to the heavens,- of its Lord. So God sets forth parables for men, in order that they may receive admonition.
It brings forth its fruit at all times, by the leave of its Lord. So God sets forth parables for men, in order that they may receive admonition.
And the parable of an evil Word is that of an evil tree: It is torn up by the root from the surface of the earth: it has no stability. (Surah Ibrahim 14:24-26)
Isa al Masih’s parables
His disciples asked him on one occasion why he taught by using parables. The Injil records his explanation:
10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (Matthew 13:10-13)
His last sentence was a recitation of the prophet Isaiah (PBUH) who had warned against a hardening of our hearts. In other words, sometimes we do not understand something because we missed the explanation or it was too complex to comprehend. In such a situation a clear explanation dispels the confusion. But there are other times when we do not understand because deep down inside our hearts we do not want to. We may not admit this, so we keep asking questions as if a lack of mental comprehension is our block. But if the confusion is in our hearts and not in our minds then no explanation will be sufficient. The problem then is that we are unwilling to submit, not that we cannot mentally understand.
When the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught in parables, the effect on the crowd that he was teaching was dramatic. Those that could not understand with their minds would become curious from the story and inquire further, gaining understanding, while those who were unwilling to submit would treat the story with contempt and disinterest and they would get no further understanding. Using parables was a way for the master teacher to separate people as the farmer separates wheat from chaff by winnowing. Those who were willing to submit were separated from those who were not willing. Those people unwilling to submit would find the parable confusing since their hearts were unwilling to submit to its truth. Though seeing, they would not see the point.
Parable of the Sower and the Four Soils
When the disciples were asking the prophet Isa (PBUH) about his teaching in parables, he had been teaching a group of parables on the Kingdom of God and its effect on people. Here is the first:
3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9)
So what did this parable mean? We do not have to guess, since those who had hearts willing to submit were intrigued by the parable and asked for its meaning, which he gave:
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:18-23)
We can see that there are four responses to the message about the Kingdom of God. The first has no ‘understanding’ and so the devil (Iblis) takes the message away from their hearts. The remaining three responses are all initially very positive and they receive the message with joy. But this message must grow in our hearts through difficult times. It is not just to be acknowledged in our minds to then continue living our lives as we want. So two of these responses did not allow the message to grow in their heart. Only the fourth heart, who ‘hears the word and understands it’ would truly submit in the way that Allah was looking for.
One point of this parable is to make us ask the question; ‘which of these soils am I?’ Only those who truly ‘understand’ will become a good crop. One way to strengthen understanding is to clearly see what the previous prophets, beginning with Adam, revealed about the plan of God through the Taurat and Zabur. This is why we began with these first prophets. Important Signs in the Taurat come from the promise to Ibrahim (PBUH) and his sacrifice, Musa (PBUH), the Ten Commandments, Harun (PBUH). In the Zabur, understanding the origin of ‘Masih’, and the revelations of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Daniel and Malachi will also prepare us to understand the ‘message of the Kingdom of God’.
The Parable of the Weeds
After the explanation of this parable the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught the parable about weeds.
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Here is the explanation he gave
36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast
The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) also taught some very brief parables.
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about thirty kilograms of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
In other words, the Kingdom of God would start small and insignificant in this world but would then grow throughout the world like yeast working through the dough and like a small seed growing into a large plant. It does not happen by force, or all at once, its growth is invisible but everywhere and unstoppable.
Parables of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl of Great Value
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13: 44-46)
These parables focus on the value of the Kingdom of God. Think of a treasure which is hidden in a field. Since it is hidden everyone passing by the field thinks the field is of little value and thus they have no interest in it. But someone realizes there is a treasure there making the field very valuable – valuable enough to sell everything in order to buy it and get the treasure. So it is with the Kingdom of God – a value unnoticed by most, but the few that see its worth will gain great value.
The Parable of the Net
47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The Kingdom of God will separate people. This separation will be fully revealed on the Day of Judgment – when hearts are laid bare.
We can see that the Kingdom of God grows mysteriously, like yeast in dough, that it has great value which is hidden from most, and that it causes different responses among people. It also separates people between those that understand and those that do not. After teaching these parables the prophet Isa al Masih then asked his listeners an important question.
51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” they replied.
What about you?