Parables tell simple stories. Parables tend to use human characters, unlike fables which tend to use non-human characters. Examples of fables include Aesop’s “The Fox and the Grapes” and Uncle Remus’ “Brer Rabbit”. Unlike fables which tend to teach basic moral values and life lessons, parables tend to teach spiritual values and lessons. Examples of parables can be found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. An example of an Old Testament parable is the Prophet Nathan’s rebuke of King David’s adultery and murder (see 2 Samuel, chapter 12). Examples of New Testament parables are, of course, Jesus’ parables found in three of the four gospels: the Gospel of Matthew contains 24, the Gospel of Mark contains nine and the Gospel of Luke contains 28. The Gospel of John does not contain any parables of Jesus.
The following is a list of the 40 parables told by Jesus in the New Testament: (#1) Lamp under a Bowl, (#2) Wise and Foolish Builders, (#3) New Cloth on an Old Coat, (#4) New Wine in Old Wineskins, (#5) Sower and the Soils, (#6) Weeds, (#7) Mustard Seed, (#8) Yeast, (#9) Hidden Treasure, (#10) Valuable Pearl, (#11) Net, (#12) Owner of a House, (#13) Lost Sheep, (#14) Unmerciful Servant, (#15) Workers in the Vineyard, (#16) Two Sons, (#17) Tenants, (#18) Wedding Banquet, (#19) Fig Tree, (#20) Faithful and Wise Servant, (#21) Ten Virgins, (#22) Talents, (#23) Sheep and Goats, (#24) Growing Seed, (#25) Watchful Servants, (#26) Moneylender, (#27) Good Samaritan, (#28) Friend in Need, (#29) Rich Fool, (#30) Unfruitful Fig Tree, (#31) Lowest Seat at the Feast, (#32) Great Banquet, (#33) Cost of Discipleship, (#34) Lost Coin, (#35) Prodigal Son, (#36) Shrewd Manager, (#37) Rich Man and Lazarus, (#38) Master and his Servant, (#39) Persistent Widow, and (#40) Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
The two most popular parables of Jesus are, of course, (#27) the Good Samaritan and (#35) the Prodigal Son. However, the most important parable of Jesus, as far as answering the title question above, is (#5) the Sower and the Soils (see Mathew 13:1-23). Why? Because Jesus actually explains why He speaks in parables (see verses 10-17, below). His disciples ask Him: “Why do you speak to the people in Parables?” Jesus answers them: “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given to you, but not to them” (see verses 10 and 11, below). The “you” in verse 11 is Jesus’ disciples. The “them” in verse 11 is the unbelievers. Does this mean that the unbelievers will never know “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven”? No. If this question was to be answered in the affirmative, then some can never be saved. Everyone can be saved. Not everyone will be, but everyone can be. Later, Jesus paraphrases Deuteronomy 29:4, Jeremiah 5:21 and Ezekiel 12:2 (see the above three verses for the exact wording) in verse 13 (see below). Then, Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9 and 10 in verses 14 and 15 (see below) and says (also in verse 14, below) that the unbelievers from verse 11 fulfill this prophecy. Does this mean that the unbelievers from verse 11 will “never” understand and “never” perceive (see verse 14, below)? Only if they always remain unbelievers. Again, everyone can be saved. Not everyone will be, but everyone can be.
So, why is the Parable of the Sower and the Soils (#5, above) the most important parable of Jesus, as far as answering the title question above? Because He places the emphasis on the Sower and the Seed, not the Soils. The main character in the parable is the Sower who casts the Seed. The Soils are only secondary characters. The secondary characters (the Soils) merely react to the action of the main character (the Sower who casts the Seed). Why is this important? Jesus places the burden of salvation on the work of the Holy Spirit, not on those who accept or reject Him. Remember the words of Martin Luther in his explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” The Parable of the Sower and the Soils (#5, above) shows that an unbeliever can become a believer through the work of the Holy Spirit. Everyone can be saved. Not everyone will be, but everyone can be.
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. 14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘you will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. – Matthew 13:10-17