We are familiar with “University Challenge” where if one side answers the first question correctly, they can try three supplementaries and gain further points. Jesus used this method when telling parables. They were not intended to be just “nice stories”. He wanted His listeners to think about them and ponder what they should then do.
After hearing the story of the Good Samaritan, they may well have come across a tragic situation later in life which forced them to make a decision. Jesus had planted a seed in their minds but their response to the situation would show whether it had grown or withered away. Many of us may have experienced something similar. When we are in church it is easy to say, “Of course I would have acted like the Samaritan!” but on Monday, surrounded by the world’s influence it is often harder to do so.
At the end of this parable, Jesus actually said to the inquirer “Go and do thou likewise” but even where He does not use these words. His challenge is the same. When the Prodigal Son reached home, his father laid on a great feast for him that day but how did the son respond in later days? Did he show real repentance by the way he then lived? How did the elder brother respond? Did he still resent him or was there a reconciliation? The story does not tell us but the real test of the homecoming lay after the feast had ended.
In the same way, some of Jesus’ shorter parables tantalise us not just by their meaning but in their challenge. The mustard seed describes the tremendous growth of the kingdom of God but how much are we contributing to it? The parable of the dough (leaven) describes how the Gospel is meant to change people. How much difference can we see in our lives? These are all starters. We should ask ourselves what they are leading up to.