The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: What are the Most Important Religious Parables?

Tom and Lea ask, “What are the common parables/morality stories that are found in the scriptures or text of the different religions?”

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

Linda Knieriemen, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Holland, responds:

“I come from a Christian perspective, but I’m guessing that most other religions traditions have stories reflecting truths such as:

  • Life comes out of death: Jesus death and resurrection
  • Forgiveness: The Story of the Prodigal son —(a father forgives his wayward son)
  • Love your neighbor as yourself and everyone is your neighbor:  Jesus Story of the Good Samaritan (it’s the enemy who takes care of a injured man)
  • Love and care of God:  Parable of the Good Shepherd/23rd psalm. God/Jesus will seek out the lost.
  • God has healing power: Jesus heals at the Pool of Bethsaida, heals a man with leprosy, one with blindness, a hemorrhaging woman.”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“It is fascinating how many common themes there are in stories contained in the stories, parables, legends and myths of the world’s great religions.  Recently, I recommended reading the works of Joseph Campbell. I will reiterate that. Campbell did painstaking work in an effort to trace the common threads of these tales. Among them are accounts of the hero set with a divine task, floods, resurrection, exile and righteous battles. In particular, the stories of the births of both Hinduism’s Krishna and the Jesus of Christianity bear remarkable resemblance. The similarities include divine beings announcing a pregnancy to a virgin, being born in humble means (stable/prison), and persecution from a king who was alerted to the birth by astrologers. He was afraid of being usurped; and this fear resulted in innocent children being executed, as well as the hunted divine babies stealthily being taken to safety.”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“Although I am not to be considered an expert in this area of study, I find there are a few areas of commonality. Many religious traditions have a creation story, with several including the creation of man from clay or the dust of the earth (cf. Genesis 2:7). The story of the great flood is another example of stories, remember Noah and the Ark. The last example I have is many religious traditions have the story of the ‘dying God.’ In Christian tradition, this refers to Jesus of Nazareth. There may be more examples, but as I began this ‘blurb,’ I am not an authority in scriptures or other religious traditions.”

Father Michael Nasser, who writes from an Eastern Christian perspective and is Pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian Church, responds:

“Since Jesus Christ taught extensively by using parables, there are a large variety of them in Christianity. One of the most common themes include understanding the value of faith in Him (the parables of the lost coin or the pearl of great price), But another common theme is that of stewardship, where we are entrusted with something valuable and God returns later to see what we have produced with what He left us. While some critics of Christianity assume Christians see themselves as better than others (and some Christians may fall prey to this themselves), authentic Christians will recognize that they are the ones with whom God will be the most strict when He comes back to see what His servants did with the valuable teaching with which He entrusted them.”

My response:

My favorite parable from the Hebrew Bible, shared by Christian traditions, is told to King David by his court prophet, Nathan. After David has slept with Batshava and arranged for the death of her husband so he can marry her, Nathan confronts David with a parable of a poor man with only one lamb.  A rich man took his lamb to feed his guests, rather than take a lamb from his own extensive flocks. David rages at the rich man and calls for his punishment, at which point Nathan reveals the truth that David himself is the rich man. It is a powerful story of speaking truth to power and the need for an independent religious or moral voice not free from the influence and control of government.

Rabbinic literature makes extensive use of parables. Typically, they have something to do with a subject approaching a King (God). Sometimes, the King has a son, which in Jewish parables is Israel or an individual Jew, representing a close relationship to God. Sometimes, the King has a palace with many rooms. In one well-known version, a wanderer sees the palace in flames and wonders, ‘is there no one taking care of this beautiful palace? The owner of the building said to him, ‘I am the owner of the palace.’ The observer understand that there is an owner and creator, that the world is full of pain as well as beauty, and that the owner needs partners in the world to combat the evils of the world.


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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