The Rich Fool

Jesus’ parable about money and death

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. What was the quarrel about? Whose side did Jesus take?
  2. In this parable, what did man propose? How did God dispose?

In brief: Jesus told the story of a rich man who thought he could have it all. But money doesn’t buy happiness or long life. None of us know what the future holds. The message? Use your time wisely.

Where there’s a will there’s a quarrel

Jesus was often called Rabbi by the people around him. This meant he was a respected teacher of the Torah, and his opinion was sought whenever there was a dispute, especially about legal matters. In this case, there seems to have been a family quarrel about property. Someone was not getting what they were entitled to, or thought they should be entitled to, and they wanted Jesus to take sides with them.

Jesus refused to get involved in the fight, even though he may have known the man and the circumstances of the quarrel. Instead he criticised the way people placed paramount importance on money, and spent too much time and energy on the getting of more money than they needed.

Read the blue Gospel text at bottom of page

Man proposes

To illustrate his point, Jesus told a simple story about a rich man who took an avid interest in acquiring even more money than he already had. He did everything a good business planner would tell you to do: he thought ahead, planned for success, and made arrangements to maximise his profits. He thought of all the benefits his foresight would get for him: he would have such a surplus of wealth that he would never need to work again. His future comfort and all those dividends rolling in would mean he could eat, drink and be merry, with nary a care in the world…

Read the green Gospel text at bottom of this page

But God disposes

God had other plans. That night, without any prior warning, He took away the life of the man who thought he could retire in comfort. The man suddenly died. His possessions were useless. It turned out that money could buy a lot of things, but not the one thing, life, that the man needed.

What he had failed to acquire was a solid relationship with God. In all this story there is no mention of family, or a right relationship with God, or of giving to the poor. The man had lived for his money, but now it was of no use. He had been a fool.

Read the black text at bottom of page

The Rich Man, Rembrandt

What the Gospels say

1. Where there’s a will there’s a quarrel. Read the blue text

2. Man proposes. Read the green text

3. God disposes. Read the black text

Luke 12:13-21

13 One of the multitude said to him, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’

20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

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The Good Samaritan

A Good Samaritan breaks the rules

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Why was the road to Jericho unsafe in the time of Jesus?
  2. What do we know about priests serving in the Jerusalem Temple at that time?
  3. What was a Levite, and why was he a respected member of the community?
  4. Why were Samaritans distrusted at the time?
  5. What happened in Jesus’ story, and why was it so revolutionary?

In brief: Martin Luther King noted that the priest and the Levite asked ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ The Good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I don’t stop to help him, what will happen to him?’

On the Jericho road

A man was travelling on the notorious highway between Jerusalem and Jericho. We don’t know who he was, or why he was there, but we can guess. Jericho was well below sea level, which made it warm in winter. This made it popular with people who had to visit Jerusalem often but could not afford to live there permanently.

The road to Jericho was not a good place to be if you were alone, as this man was. It was 18 miles from Jerusalem to Jericho, more than you could comfortably walk in a day, so there were inns along the way, and plenty of travellers. But to get to Jericho you had to go through long stretches of empty road bordered by rocks and hills. These made ideal places for thugs and thieves to hide.

Normally, people travelled in groups. This made it safer. But the man in this story seems to have been alone. At some point in his journey he was set on by a pack of thugs who beat him savagely and robbed him. When they had finished their sport they stripped him and left him to die.

Read the blue text at end of this page

The priest and the Levite pass by

After a little, other travellers came along the road and saw him. They were probably shocked and frightened, as any normal person would be.

The first was a priest from the Temple in Jerusalem. He was an important man. The priesthood was hereditary; you could not volunteer for it, as in the modern world. A person only belonged if they were born into it. It was a closed, high-ranking office.

Priests had an obligation to obey laws which made them ritually clean, suitable for service in the Temple, and the man at the side of the road, the victim, was befouled with his own blood and waste matter. This would certainly make a priest unclean if he came into contact with the victim. The trouble is, that this priest was travelling away from Jerusalem where the Temple was, not towards it. His Temple duties were already completed. He could have helped, but did not.

The second traveller to pass by the wounded man was a Levite. A Levite was a Temple official from the priestly tribe of Levi. He was one step down in status from the priest. He had studied the Law of Moses in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), and his task in life was to interpret this Law. He was a respected and responsible member of society. But he too passed by.

Together, these two men, ‘priest’ and ‘Levite’, stood for the great ruling religious institutions of the Jewish nation at the time of Jesus.

Read the green text at bottom of page

The Samaritan takes pity on the beaten man

Just at the moment of crisis, help arrived for the wounded man. In other words, here comes the cavalry.

But what a surprise when we learn who the rescuer was. A Samaritan. To a Jew, such a man was a classic villain. Jews and Samaritans detested each other. Samaritans were, as far as the Jews were concerned, socio-religious outcasts. Putting the words ‘neighbour ’and ‘Samaritan’ in the same sentence seemed, to Jesus’ audience, a contradiction in terms. How could ‘good’ go with ‘Samaritan’?

But Jesus contradicted this stereotype. A person who was once despised (the Samaritan) was held up as an example. Traditionally revered figures (the priest and Levite) were rejected.

Jesus made the story vivid by giving details of what the Samaritan did:

  • He went to the wounded man
  • Applied oil to soften and clean the wounds and wine to disinfect them
  • Bound up his wounds
  • Set him on his own donkey
  • Brought him to an inn
  • Took care of him
  • Paid for the man’s accommodation with his own money
  • Left instructions about future payment

Only then did the Samaritan continue on his journey.

Read the red text at bottom of this page

How the Kingdom will come

The people listening to the story expected the Jewish men, rather than the Samaritan, to know how to live according to the Torah.

Jesus turned this expectation on its head. He asked people to jettison their comfortable ideas about who was a good person, and who was not. Actions speak louder than words. In the Kingdom, the first (the Priest and the Levite) will be last, and the last (the Samaritan) will be first.

The story was not a criticism of priests or Levites. Jesus condemned any people who scrupulously followed an external law rather than their internal conscience. He decried comfortable, entrenched prejudices, and called us to adopt new values, new ways of living. Only if we did so would the Kingdom come into being.

Read the black text at bottom of page

What happened next? See Parable of the Prodigal Son

What the Gospels say

1. Violence on the road to Jericho. Read the blue text

2. The priest and the Levite pass by. Read the green text

3. The Samaritan takes pity on the beaten man. Read the red text

4. Mercy. Read the black text

Verses 31,32,33 are about seeing; verses 25, 28, 37, 38 are about doing.

Luke 10: 29-37 29

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, 34 and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’

36 Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”


I’m only human…
The man is reduced, in an isolated place, to a desperate situation. Naked, beaten up, abandoned, half dead. In the same situation, driving along a lonely dangerous road, seeing what looked like a dead body – what would you do? Isn’t what the priest and the Levite do understandable? Discuss.

The Kingdom is now
What difference has being a Christian made to your life? Make a list of ways it has changed you. Are you happy with that list, or is there something more you could be doing? Spend some time thinking about this.

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The Jerusalem Temple

Parable of the Seeds

Jesus’ parable: the sower and the seed

Questions for Bible study groups

The parable urges Christians to examine themselves and ask the questions:

  • how sincere are they in their beliefs?
  • are their beliefs deep-rooted or shallow, real or an enthusiasm of the moment?
  • how would they react if the going got tough?

What kind of ‘seed’ are you? (v.4)

When Jesus’ disciples became discouraged he told them the Parable of the Seeds – a story as relevant today as it was then.

There are many different kinds of people who hear the gospel of Jesus. The Parable of the Seeds invites us to ask: what am I? In this particular story much of the seed is wasted, but enough of it survives, and thrives, to give an abundant harvest.

Birds eat the seeds

(see the Gospel text at the bottom of this page)

The sower in the Parable of the Seeds casts the seed over the ground where it will, hopefully, germinate and grow roots. But this can only happen if the conditions are right.

What’s the danger? The first hazard it may encounter will be birds, who dart down and eat the seed before it has a chance to take hold of the soil. In other words, some people will never get the chance to hear Jesus’ message. For them, the seed of his Word will never even begin to germinate.

Who are the birds? At the time the gospels were written, the birds may have symbolised the Gentile nations, sometimes actively hostile to youthful Christianity.

What about now? Who are the birds? There are many people who never tell their children the story of Jesus, or who actively discourage their children from becoming involved with religion of any kind. They seize on any opportunity to criticise Christians or the practice of religion. Today’s media is full of their opinions. Religion is bad, they say, and the world would be a better place if no-one believed in God. These are the birds who would destroy the seed before it has any chance to grow.

Seeds fall on rocky ground

Some of the sower’s seeds falls on rocky ground. This is not earth full of stones, as people sometimes suppose; even if it takes lot of sweat and toil, stones can be removed.

What Jesus is describing here is earth that is shallow: it has rock close to the surface, so that there is no depth to it. You can plant, water and fertilise the soil as much as you want, but the roots will always be stunted. This kind of soil is common in the hill country of Judea.

The seed wants to grow, but cannot survive with shallow roots.

It is like the newly converted Christian who is enthusiastic in his/her belief but who meets difficulties and cannot persist. All this thinking and praying, not to mention a change in heart, is too much of a bother.

Basically, this person is shallow, like the rocky ground in the parable. It’s easier to give the whole thing up. So their new-found belief in Christ withers and dies.

Or into spiky bushes

Weeds can kill new plants.

Other seeds fall into clumps of prickly weeds, thorny bushes which overpower any plant near them. It is hard to pull them out because the thorns protect them, and hurt anyone brave enough to grasp them.

You surely know people like this. They are bitter and angry. They don’t like to see anyone happy, anyone inspired by belief in something higher than themselves. They pour scorn on anyone who wants to be a better person, or build a better world.

What’s the remedy? The only remedy is to leave them to their bitterness and move out of their orbit. If you stay with them, they will impose their anger on you and lead you onto the wrong track. Be careful who you trust. Make sure they are worthy.

Some fall in good soil

Finally, there is the seed that falls on good soil.

With all the right conditions, it flourishes – as Christian living can flourish if given the right conditions.

What’s the message of this parable?

When Jesus told this parable, he felt the frustration of planting seeds (teaching and preaching) that would never produce grain – and he knew the disciples would later feel this same frustration.

And yet, year after year, they would persevere, knowing that some seeds would grow and ripen, even if many did not.

The task of living up to your Christian beliefs may at times seem futile and fruitless; there will be repeated failure.

But if the seed of your faith has deep roots, and you nurture this faith, you will grow like the seed that fell on good soil. Jesus urged his disciples not to be dragged down by failure, but concentrate on

  • keeping their beliefs strong
  • watering the plant
  • believing that their work would one day bear fruit.

The preaching of the disciples and their tenacity in holding on to Christian values would not be not ineffectual, as long as they remained unshaken in their confidence that a rich harvest would eventually reward their efforts.

What the gospels say

1. Bird eat the seeds. Read the blue text

2. Seeds fall on rocky ground. Read the green text

3. Or into thorn bushes. Read the red text

4. Some fall in good soil. Read the black text

Matthew 13:1-9

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat there; and the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.

5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away.

7 Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.

8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”

Matthew 13:18-23 18

“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path.

20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.

22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

This parable also appears in Mark 4:1-9 and 13-20, and Luke 8:4-8 and 8:11-15.

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10 Popular Parables

Jesus parables: story, meaning, questions

Questions for Bible study groups

  • What is a parable?
  • Which parable of Jesus is the  most famous?
  • Which parable is your own favorite? Why?
  • What does that tell you about yourself?

Choose a favorite parable

The lost coin in a world before banks…

Ten Virgins Some were wise, some were not…

The good Samaritan Who is my neighbour?

The lost sheep There’s always one, isn’t there?

The Prodigal Son Were both brothers saved?

The mustard seed Its potential was enormous.

Hiding your light under a bushel People must talk about Jesus’ ideas and live them.

The sower and the seed The focus was not on the seed, but on the soil it fell on.

The Pharisee and the tax collector The Pharisee knew he was better than others…

Houses built on rock or sand What are your foundations?

Parable of the Ten Clever Virgins

What’s the difference between the wise young women and the foolish ones?

One of the cheerful but foolish virgins. Cathedral carving at Charroux, Saint-Sauveur, France

In many ways they are similar.

But in their preparation or lack of it they are perfect opposites. 

What’s the story?

Ten young women had been invited to a banquet, and each of them had a task: to welcome the bridegroom when he came.

They waited joyfully for his arrival. All of them knew the bridegroom and the bride. And all of them became drowsy and fell asleep after a long wait.

But suddenly he came, and at once the essential differences between the women emerged.

  • Five had oil in their lamps
  • Five did not.
  • In other words, five were ready and five were unprepared.

What’s the message?

The first point of the parable is a question:

Are you ready?

The trouble with this picture and the one below is that the Foolish Virgins seem to be having all the fun…

Or are you among the five foolish women who had received the invitation, responded to it, but were not inwardly prepared?

You know which group you should be in, and want to be in. You should be among the wise who, although they too had fallen asleep, were nevertheless ready.

On that distinction hangs your destiny.

The second point of the parable is that the difference between the wise and the foolish women showed up when the bridegroom arrived.

The difference revealed itself in crisis.

During the days before the wedding or the night leading up to the start of the feast few would have noticed that five women had adequately prepared for the bridegroom’s coming and five had not. But suddenly the bridegroom came, and the distinction was immediately apparent.

What’s the question?

The Clever Virgins, by He Qi

The parable poses a question:

  • will you be ready for Christ when he comes, when you meet him face to face?
  • or will you have spent your time (and life) foolishly, on things that don’t really matter?

Think about this

  • each person must stand on their own; they cannot blame anyone else for what they are
  • lost opportunities cannot be regained; there is a point of no return, and it will be too late to undo the damage of neglect.

The Prodigal Son

This parable is usually called ‘The Prodigal Son’, but it might just as well be called ‘The Lost Sons’.

Both the young men are lost to their family, and by the ending of the parable it is not clear if both, or only one, has been found.

Return of the Prodigal Son, John Brack

What’s the story?

A younger son demanded full rights of possession over the portion (about one-third) of his father’s estate which he could expect to inherit when the father died. The father agreed – we are not told why… Was he foolish? Or very wise?

While the elder son remained at home, and his father retained his rights over the produce of his portion of the estate, the younger son turned his share into cash and departed to enjoy the proceeds away from home and parental control.

What happened to that foolish young man?

When dissolute living had reduced him to rags, and his new friends had deserted him, he was forced to take the most menial form of employment. Feeding the pigs.

This was particularly loathsome to a Jew who regarded swine as unclean animals.

He would gladly have eked out his miserable wages by sharing the carob pods which the swine ate but he was too disgusted to do so.

The turning point: repentance

The Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

His desperate state brought him to his senses. He realized not only that he had landed himself in sorry straits but also that he was unworthy to be called his father’s son; he was fit only to be a servant, and he was prepared to humble himself and seek reinstatement at that level.

But before he reached home his father was already looking for his arrival, and before he could blurt out the whole of his intended confession, his father had welcomed him back into the family circle, treated him with great honour, and given orders for a feast of rejoicing over the return of one who had been as good as dead.

One person refused to join in the celebration, and grumbled at the lavish care being given his ne’er-do-well brother. He accused his father of failing to treat him in the same free and joyous manner, only to be reminded that all the resources of the home were his.

What did the father mean?

One can be lost even at home. The discovery of the lost and the resurrection of the dead were occasions for joy.

What happened to the older brother?

Did the elder brother eventually join in the celebration and accept his brother back as a member of the family?

The omission is deliberate. For the elder brother represents the Pharisees and their spiritual kin, and the parable is an appeal to them to receive the outcasts.

Jesus was waiting for their verdict.

The Gospel text

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons;
12 and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them.

13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living.

14 And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. 15 So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything.

17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ 20 And he arose and came to his father.

But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; 23 and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; 24 for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’

28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’

31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”
Luke 15:11-32

The Sower and the Seed

Ever tried to grow something, maybe have a garden?

If you have, you’ll know it’s not just love that grows a plant. It needs good soil, regular care, the right food.

As we all do…

Look after yourself, as a good gardener looks after a plant

The sight of a sower working in his field was a common one in Galilee, and the varied fate of the seeds was well known to anyone who worked the land – as Jesus did.

But the focus of the parable was not upon the sower, even though this story is called the ‘parable of the sower’. It was not even about the seed.

What’s important?

What was important was the fate of the seed, which was directly dependent upon the kind of soil on which it fell.

  • Without good soil, the seed could not take root, flourish and bear fruit. It would die, despite its best efforts to take root and grow.
  • Jesus knew what he was talking about. The soil in Galilee often covered rock close to the surface, so there was no depth to the soil. Looks good, but won’t produce a good crop.

So what does this parable teach?

Look after your soul and your mind. Give it the right food.

  • Read your prayers and Scripture on a regular basis, as you would feed and water a plant.
  • Make sure you’ve put your plant (you) in a good position, where it will get sun (grace) and nourishment (prayer)
  • Don’t let the snails and birds (false friends) damage it.

The place where the seed falls is all important, and not the result of an accident. It depends on the grace of God and the responsiveness of human beings – both are necessary if the plant of faith is to flourish.

The Gospel text – Mark 4:3-8

3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow.
4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.
5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil,
6 but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away.
7 Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

Hiding your Lamp under a Bushel

Jesus talked about lamps on several occasions, using this image to stress the responsibility his disciples had to the people they encountered:

  • they must pay careful attention to Jesus’ teachings so that they could pass them on accurately.
  • they must think carefully about the true meaning of what he said, and then not only talk about his ideas, but live them.

What the message of this story?

Immediately before Jesus’ comment about a lamp under a bushel (in the gospel of Luke) he has been speaking of sowing the seeds of his teachings in good soil.

Now, using the image of an oil lamp, he gives the disciples (and us) more instructions:

  • the world is in spiritual darkness
  • Jesus is the world’s light
  • those who know Jesus are to become light-bearers to the world
  • we in the modern world are to be lights, living and proclaiming the gospel.

How do we do this?

The tricky bit is working out how we do this, and then putting our beliefs into action.

God, help us.

The Gospel text – Mark 4:21-22

21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushel, or under a bed, and not on a stand?
22 For there is nothing hid, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret, except to come to light.

The Gospel text – Matthew 25:1-13

  1. “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
  2. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.
  3. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them;
  4. but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
  5. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.
  6. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’
  7. Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps
  8. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
  9. But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’
  10. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut.
  11. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’
  12. But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
  13. Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

The parable of the Good Samaritan

A man in danger on a lonely road. Some passers-by. Robbers and thugs who don’t hesitate to use violence.

Would you have stopped to help the injured man?

What’s the story? Luke 10:30-37

30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.
32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion,
34 and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’
36 Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
37 He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

What are the questions?

  • Who is my neighbour? Not someone else’s, but mine?
  • Should the needs of your neighbour take precedence over normal practices? The priest and the Levite are criticised in the story for sticking to the rules (avoiding physical contact that would make them ritually unclean), rather than helping the wounded man.
  • Who are you in this story? An onlooker, the dutiful law-abiding priest and Levite, or the wounded man lying in the ditch? Or the Samaritan, a passerby who does not step over the man but goes out of his way to help?

What’s the message?

The story is sometimes presented as if its only teaching is about being kind to someone who is down on their luck.

It is not. We are responsible for our fellow travellers. We have to be like the Samaritan. It is dangerous for him to stop and help – the thuggish criminals may still be nearby.

But he does, because it is the decent, right thing to do. And his compassion is not limited to those of his own nationality, race or religion.

In showing mercy to the injured man the Samaritan becomes his neighbour. The lawyer whose question has prompted this story is challenged to follow his example.

The Mustard Seed

This story compares the tiny mustard seed to the large plant it will one day become – a great shrub as much as 9 feet tall.

Its potential for growth is enormous.

Like us. Like the Christian church.

What’s the story about?

This must have been one of Luke’s favorite stories. He wrote the Acts of the Apostles and so knew all about the growth of the Church from a tiny mustard seed to a flourishing plant.

Luke may be alluding to Ezekial 17:22-23, where a tree with birds nesting in its branches becomes an image of a powerful king able to protect his people with stability and peace.

The birds that come to the tree find shelter and protection, but there are many different sorts of birds who use it: as there will be both Jew and Gentile in the kingdom of God.

The Gospel text from Mark & Luke

A mustard plant

30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?
31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;
32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
Mark 4:30-32

18 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
Luke 13:18-19

The Lost Coin

A poor woman has lost a coin. The drachma she has lost is probably about a day’s wage for an ordinary worker.

What’s so bad about that?

She seems to be a lone woman – notice how it is her friends and neighbors she turns to, not her husband or family member.

This means she was always in a precarious position, money-wise. She had no fall-back position if things got tough, no family member to turn to.

The woman’s coins may have been a sort of security blanket, a little hoard of savings in a world before banks or social security.

Using a lamp to catch the gleam of the coin and a broom to pull it out, she searches her house.

When she finds the coin she happily calls her neighbors to share this moment with her. In the Greek text the friends are female: she is a respectable woman.

We too are asked to identify this story with God’s joy in the restoration of a sinner, and perhaps ask this question: are we the sinner God searches for?

The Gospel text

8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?
9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’
10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Luke 15:8-10

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Pharisees were leading figures in the life of Israel in New Testament times, but Jesus is often critical of them.

On the other hand tax collectors were unsavory types, but Jesus befriended them.

There may be hope yet for those who have been written off by respectable society.

What’s the story?

The Pharisee in this story attributes his goodness to the grace of God, and thanks Him. So far so good.

But he seems to look down on the rest of the world. He is dismissive of the tax collector who is also praying in the Temple. Thank God, he says, I am not like that awful man back there – and in fact his life and achievements are impressive.

But his love for God does not move him to compassion for those less fortunate than himself, and his righteousness may even drive him away from others.

What about the despised tax collector?

In contrast, the tax collector signals his unworthiness before God. His words echo the opening words of Psalm 51, about the sin and repentance of David. He does not shy away from the fact that as a tax collector for the Romans he oppresses his own people.

BUT there is a depth of feeling in his words that is missing from the Pharisee’s prayer.

What’s the meaning for us?

  • Things are not always as they seem.
  • Look deeper at a situation before you judge it.
  • And look with humility…

The Gospel text

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others:
10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’
13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 18:9-14

Houses built on rock or sand

There were shoddy builders in the ancient world, just as there are now. They cut costs by skimping on the all-important foundations, and in the end they were found out.

Jesus uses this image to warn his listeners.

Is this a message for you?

The warning is not given to unbelievers or people who rebelled against Christ’s teachings, but to people who listened to them and said they believed.

  • They heard what was right,
  • acknowledged that it was right, and
  • professed to be following Jesus’ teaching,
  • but they did not put these teachings into practice.

On the surface, everything seemed to be going well. They professed all the right things. They mixed with true believers. As long as life went smoothly it was difficult to tell them apart from people who truly believed.

But at heart they were only talking about repentance, about belief, about love.

And when the storm came, there was no real foundation to support them, and they collapsed.

Is this you?

Gospel text

24 “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock;
25 and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.
26 And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand;
27 and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.”
Matthew 7:24-27

The Lost Sheep

Something has been lost: a sheep. Just one sheep.

Why not write it off? There are still ninety-nine left.

The loss is only one percent, and in any business you have to expect a certain percentage of loss, don’t you?

But even in its lost state this lost sheep remains valuable to its owner. He is determined to recover it.

God is the shepherd who owns the sheep. He loves us and is determined to find and reclaim us, even though it is our own foolishness that has got us into a dangerous predicament.

What’s the meaning of this parable?

This parable seems a little unfair.

  • What about the ninety-nine who have done what they were supposed to do?
  • Shouldn’t they be valued too?

But in fact the emphasis here is on the worth of each individual. You may be worthless in your own estimation, because you only see what you have made of yourself.

God sees you differently. He sees what you were created to be and what you, with His help, can become.

The Gospel text – Matthew 18:12-13

12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?
13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.

More parables

Jesus and Children

Young people in the gospels

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Choose one of the young people described below (but not Jesus of Nazareth), and jot down all you can find out about them from the gospels.
  2. Using this information, write a short biography of that person.
  3. What could you learn from them and their story?

Jesus of Nazareth

Mary and Joseph of Nazareth would have been frantic with anxiety when they lost their 12-year-old son Jesus. Though he was now legally a man, he was still to them just their boy who had gone missing in an over-crowded city. They must have been distraught.Reconstruction of the 1st century Temple in Jerusalem, built by King Herod the Great but not completed at the time of Jesus’ death

Jesus, however, knew that he was destined to be more than a carpenter in Galilee. Not yet a grown man, he realized he had a mission that would change the world.

That sense of purpose is something we’d all like to have. If you can, try to work out where you want to go with your own life.

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • What should you do to achieve these aims?
  • How do you turn your ideals into solid, practical reality?
  • Look for opportunities, and don’t throw them away.
Finding the Savior in the Temple, John Holman Hunt

Finding the Savior in the Temple, John Holman Hunt

Gospel text of the story

‘When they (Mary and Joseph) had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.
There were Temple schools for young men; these were held in the colonnades at the edges of the courtyard When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
He said to them “Why were you searching for me? Did you now know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.’ Luke 2:39-52

For more on this story, go to The Lost Boy


Ancient gold bracelet in the form of a snake Salome’s lurid image as an under-age seductress did not come from the gospels. It was developed in the 19th century, from the fevered imaginations of artists and writers like Aubrey Beardsley, Oscar Wilde and Richard Strauss. There was very little historical reality in their image of this 1st century Jewish princess. So try to put that aside.

Look at the bare bones of her story. What was this young girl trying to do? She was trying to save her mother Herodias from anyone (like John the Baptist) who seemed to be a political agitator. No child likes to see their parent being attacked, especially by an outsider.

Salome sinned because she put her loyalty to her mother above her sense of right and wrong. Family loyalty is worthwhile, but only when it does not clash with real morality.

Salome, V. Surenyants, 1907

Salome, V. Surenyants, 1907

Gospel text of the story

‘Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been telling him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd because they regarded him as a prophet.
But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.”
The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother.’ Matthew 14:3-11

Mary of Nazareth

Mary of Nazareth has become such a venerated figure that it is hard to imagine her as a young girl who found herself pregnant in a society that demanded virginity in every unmarried girl.

As far as the people around her were concerned, Mary was pregnant to some man who was not her promised husband, Joseph. Outrage and hostility would have been directed at her from all sides.

The Annunciation, Howard Tanner

The Annunciation, Howard Tanner

Faced with this situation, Mary did two things:

  • she wholeheartedly accepted God’s will, placing her faith in God’s ultimate wisdom
  • she removed herself from the distressing situation in her native town, and went instead to visit her sympathetic older cousin, Elizabeth.

She accepted that God had a plan for her, even though she might not be able to understand it, and placed herself under the guidance of a sensible older person.

The lesson? God’s plan is often difficult to fathom, but we should accept it and trust in his ultimate wisdom – and not be too proud to listen to the advice of a sensible, older person who is willing to help.

Gospel text of the story

‘In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
And he came to her and said “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now you will conceived in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.”
Mary said to the angel “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be Robert Anning Bell: the Visitation, Mary and her cousin Elizabeth born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Then Mary said “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a out cry “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned home.’
Luke 1:26-42, 56

John the apostle

John came from an ordinary background: his father and brothers were fishermen, and he expected to go into the family business. But one day he met Jesus, and that changed everything. John was just a young man, but the charismatic teacher from Galilee called him to follow, and he downed tools and went without a backwards glance.

Peter and Jesus in the film 'Passion of the Christ'According to tradition, he was hardly more than a boy at the time. He was quick-tempered and impulsive – Jesus called him and his older brother James the ‘sons of thunder’ because of their tempers. Despite this, or maybe because of it, Jesus loved and trusted him.

John was present at some of the key moments in Jesus’ life

After Jesus died, John became one of the main leaders of the early Christian church. He may have been the author of John’s Gospel; if so, he was a poet and a man of brilliant intellect.

What message can we take from his story? Knowledge of Jesus and his teachings, and acceptance of them, can transform an ordinary life into something quite extraordinary.

Gospel text

‘As he walked by the sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father, mending their nets, and he called them “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.’ Matthew 4:18-22

‘Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.’ John 19:25-27

Jairus’ daughter

Whenever you look up a Commentary on the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the writer describes Jesus and Jairus but not the young girl in the story. And yet surely this must have been the most extraordinary experience of her life. She was dead, and then she was alive again.

Was she an only child? Or were there brothers and sisters in the background, praying for a miracle, seeing their sister die, then watching as a miracle really did take place before their eyes?
The story encourages us to think about our own spiritual health:

  • Are we as good as dead in our hearts?
  • ‘Dead without even realizing we have died?
  • Do we need the message of Jesus to restore us to life?
  • Does Jesus extend the gift of life to us, as he did to this girl?
  • And do we accept it?

When you read the gospel story, don’t miss the final sentence. It shows a side of Jesus that is usually ignored – his good common sense. Even in the midst of the hullabaloo, Jesus still recognized that the now-healthy girl was probably hungry, and needed something to eat.

Gospel text of the story

‘Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw Jesus, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him…..
While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue “Do not fear, only believe.”
He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James and John, the brother of James.
When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.
Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was.
He took her by the hand and said to her “Talitha cum” which means, “Little girl, get up!”
And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He told them to give her something to eat.’ 

Mark 5:22-43

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Jesus Christ

Modern images of Jesus and Mary

Birth of Jesus

Andrew 1st Disciple

Andrew, Apostle of Jesus

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Who was Andrew in the gospels?
  2. What sort of man was Andrew?
  3. What was the miracle of the loaves and fishes?
  4. Why is he so important among the apostles?
  5. How did Andrew die?

Other people in the story: Jesus of Nazareth, Peter

Who was the apostle Andrew?

Andrew is mentioned quite often in the gospels, but in a way that must have annoyed him: ‘Peter, and his brother Andrew…’. Always ‘and his brother Andrew’ following the name of the more high-profile Peter. You wonder if it ever bothered Andrew, or if he was used to being the tag-along.

The truth is that Andrew had quite a different personality to Peter. He was less impulsive, more approachable, a man who thought quite deeply. He had educated Greek friends who respected his opinion. Some of them asked to meet Jesus, and Andrew introduced them to Jesus and his ideas (see James Tissot’s painting of the scene at right). He may have been something of a quiet intellectual among the group of people who formed Jesus’ core supporters.

Tissot_GreeksAndrew brings some Greeks to meet Jesus, painting by James Tissot His origins were humble. He was a fisherman who came from Bethsaida on the Lake of Galilee, but lived in nearby Capernaum.

But the life of a fisherman does not seem to have satisfied him, for he was also a disciple of John The Baptist, the radical preacher in the desert, who told him about Jesus of Nazareth and called Jesus the ‘Lamb of God’.

Andrew was a man looking for something more than the steady life of a fisherman.

St John the Baptist points out Jesus to Andrew, Ottavio Vannini

St John the Baptist points out Jesus to Andrew, Ottavio Vannini

Andrew meets Jesus

Intrigued, Andrew approached Jesus and soon became convinced Jesus was the Messiah. When Jesus later approached Andrew and asked him to join him in his ministry, Andrew readily agreed.

It is surprising that the gospels do not make more of Andrew, because he was the first to whom Jesus ‘stated his case’.

Jesus must have been fortified by Andrew’s belief in him when he underwent that life-changing event called the Temptation in the Desert.

Peter meets JesusPeter meets Jesus

Mosaic showing Jesus with Andrew and PeterAndrew was perhaps the first to spread the Good News. He brought Peter, his brother, to Jesus (John 1, 35-44). The first two disciples whom John reports as attaching themselves to Jesus (Jn 1:35-42) are Andrew and another disciple – whom John does not name, but who is commonly supposed to be John himself.

Andrew then finds his brother Simon and brings him to Jesus. Because of this sequence of events, Andrew has been called ‘the Peter before Peter’ because he is the first (that we know) to bring others to belief in Jesus.

35 The next day John (the Baptist) again was standing with two of his disciples; 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). 43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Beth-sa’ida, the city of Andrew and Peter. John 1:35-42

What sort of person was he?

Why was he among the first to follow Jesus? Because he had an enquiring mind. He was actively looking for the truth. He simply wanted to know.

This is why he took Jesus aside on the Mount of Olives to ask when the destruction of the Temple would occur.

Right from the start, Andrew appears to have been part of an inner circle among the disciples — only he and three others (Peter, James, and John) were on the Mount of Olives with Jesus when Jesus spoke about the coming cataclysm in Jerusalem: the destruction of the Temple and the apocalypse.

The miracle of the loaves and fishes

Andrew was also practical, and a problem-solver. It was he who brought the boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus (John 6:8) ‘Here is a lad’ he says ‘with five barley loaves and two fish.” (John 6:4-14).

4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place; so the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!”

The miracle of the loaves and fishes

The enquiring Greeks

He also brought the enquiring Greeks to Jesus (John 12:20-26) in the tense hours before The Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Olives. When a number of Greek Jews wished to speak with Jesus, they approached Philip and Andrew to introduce them to Jesus.

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Beth-sa’ida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.

This is an important point. Every time Andrew is mentioned as an individual, it is because he is bringing someone to Jesus.

St Andrew, painting by El Greco

St Andrew, painting by El Greco

Jesus arrested

Like most of the other apostles, Andrew seems to have abandoned Jesus after he was arrested. But he returned, and was with the frightened group of disciples in Jerusalem after Jesus ascended to heaven.

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away; 13 and when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. Acts 1:12-13

The death of Andrew

There is no mention of his death in the New Testment, but tradition has it that he was crucified at Patrae in Achaea on an X-shaped cross which has become the traditional St. Andrew’s cross. He had protested that he was unworthy to be executed on a cross that was the same shape on which Jesus died.

It is said he took two agonising days to die.

St Andrew the apostle and his cross, El Greco

St Andrew the apostle and his cross, El Greco

General information about St Andrew

  • ST ANDREW  Died approx. c. 70 Feast Day 30th November
  • IN ART: Old man with book and transverse cross, sometimes with  a fish-hook
  • PATRON Of Scotland, Russia, Avranehes, Brabant, Brunswick,  Burgundy, Holstein, Luxembourg, Minden, Pesaro, Tetminster
  • INVOKED By fishermen, fishmongers and sailors. Against gout and stiff neck, and sore throat
  • RELICS Head in St Peter’s, Rome; some in Sant’ Andrea al  Quirinale, Rome, rest in Amahi
  • Beyond what is told of St Andrew in the New Testament,  which tells that he was the brother of Simon Peter, that  they were fishermen from Bethsaida and that they also had  a house at Capernaum, little is known of him. Accounts of his later life are fragmentary and not dependable.
  • Legend relates that he travelled to Scythia, Cappadocia and Bithynia and was the first to preach Christianity to the Muscovites in Sarmatia.
  • At last he came to Achaia where the wife of the proconsul at Patras was one of his converts.  This angered her husband and he ordered Andrew to be crucified on the shape of cross since then always associated with his name. He was bound to the cross with cords and so lived two whole days, during which time he preached to his people urging them to remain steadfast to the faith.
  • His connection with Russia is based on a tradition that he reached as far as Kiev.
  • Legend also associates him with Scotland. It says that in the fourth century the guardian of the relics at Patras was told in a dream to take part of them to a place which would be shown to him. He was led to what is now St Andrews in Scotland, where he built a church.
  • The rest of the alleged relics were stolen from Constantinople in 1210 and taken to the Cathedral of Amalfi near Naples. In 1462, Pope Pius II transferred the head to St Peter’s, Rome.

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Peter denies knowing Jesus

Peter Apostle

’Peter the Rock’: the Gospel story

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Why might Jesus have called Peter ‘the rock’?
  2. What miracles of Jesus did Peter see?
  3. What did Peter do at the Last Supper? At the death of Jesus? On the morning of the Resurrection?
  4. What happened to Peter in the years after the death of Jesus?

Who was Peter?Map-Palestine-NT

Peter was a Galilean fisherman who lived on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (see top right of map) with his wife, his brother Andrew and his mother-in-law.

People at the time worked as a family unit, so the men and women of Peter’s family worked together to catch and preserve/dry fish for export to the surrounding towns.

This particular family was probably in partnership with Zebedee and his sons, James and John (Matthew 4:21).

Jesus calls the disciples

Like his father and brother Andrew, Simon Peter was a fisherman by trade, working on the Lake of Galilee. His family seems to have been caught up in the revival movement led by John the Baptist.

Peter met Jesus at Bethany through his brother Andrew, and was immediately impressed. Jesus called him ‘Peter’, the rock – an odd choice of name since Peter seems to have been passionate and impulsive rather than rock-like. Note: Jesus actually called Peter ‘Cephras’, which is the Aramaic equivalent of ‘Petros’, a rock.

Gospel reference: Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20.


Jesus Calls the Disciples, Duccio

Jesus heals the mother-in-law of Peter

It is hardly surprising that Peter was bowled over by Jesus. When he had only known Jesus a short time, Peter witnessed first-hand an unforgettable healing. His wife’s mother was ill with a fever, apparently bad enough to cause concern. Jesus went to her, took her by the hand and lifted her up. The fever vanished immediately. Not only was she cured – she was strong enough to get up and cook for the visitors to her house, and serve up the sabbath meal after the synagogue service. A doughty woman indeed.

Gospel reference: Mark 1:29-31.


Jesus heals the mother-in-law of Peter, Rembrandt van Rijn

Jesus Walks on Water

Peter was with Jesus all through the three years of Jesus’ travelling ministry – rock-like in his steadfast loyalty. He witnessed all the major events of this extraordinary time. For example, one night Jesus was on the shore while the disciples, including Peter, were out on the Lake of Galilee. The weather was stormy, the water rough. Suddenly the men in the boat saw a figure walking towards them over the water. It was Jesus.

They shouted in fear, thinking it was some evil spirit. It was not. Jesus called to them not to be afraid. Peter, relieved and always impetuous, called out to Jesus that if Jesus wanted, Peter would walk towards him on the water. Jesus called for him to come, and Peter stepped out onto the water.

As long as he kept his focus on Jesus he was safe, but when he noticed how stormy the water was, he began to sink into the water. He called to Jesus for help. Jesus held out his hand and pulled him up to safety.

Gospel reference: Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-52, John 6:16-21.


Jesus Walks on Water, artist unknown

Peter at the Transfiguration of Jesus

This was a momentous event in Jesus’ life. Peter had just proclaimed his belief that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.

Jesus, Peter, James and John became separated from the others and went up onto the flat summit of a mountain. Something happened there that the disciples tried haltingly to explain to the others later on: Jesus had been transformed, and at the same time the figures of Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) appeared talking with him.

They experienced something like a voice that came from nowhere and everywhere, telling them that Jesus was the Son of God, chosen by God and now revealed to them.

Peter, always enthusiastic, wanted to put up tents or bowers, but Jesus gently restrained him. Peter and the other disciples did not understand what all this meant until after the Resurrection.

The Transfiguration, Fra Angelico

The Transfiguration, Fra Angelico

Transfiguration, unknown artist

Transfiguration, unknown artist

Peter at the Last Supper

At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of each of his disciples. Peter objected to having his feet washed by someone he venerated, but Jesus insisted.

Jesus also predicted that his disciples would scatter and flee when danger threatened. But Peter contradicted him, assuring Jesus and the other disciples that even if everyone deserted, he would remain faithful to the end.

Gospel reference: Matthew 26:30-35, Mark 14:26-31, Luke 22:31-34, John 13:1-38.

Christ Washing the Feet of St Peter, Ford Madox Brown

Christ Washing the Feet of St Peter, Ford Madox Brown

The Last Supper, Jacopo Bassano. Peter sits at Jesus' right hand

The Last Supper, Jacopo Bassano. Peter sits at Jesus’ right hand

Peter and Jesus in the film 'Passion of the Christ'

Peter and Jesus in the film ‘Passion of the Christ’

Peter at Gethsemane

Peter was with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his death. When the soldiers tried to arrest Jesus, Peter unsheathed his sword and swung it at the head of one of them, a slave of the High Priest called Malchus. He missed, but cut off the ear of the unfortunate man.

Gospel reference: John 18:10-11, Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-52, Luke 22:47-53.

The Arrest of Jesus, Fra Angelico

The Arrest of Jesus, Fra Angelico

Peter Smites Off the Ear of Malchus

reconstruction of the palace of the High Priest Caiaphas, where Jesus faced a hasty trial

Reconstruction of the palace of the High Priest Caiaphas, where Jesus faced a hasty trial

Peter Denies Jesus/p>

After Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was taken to the house of Caiphas the High Priest. This was an official residence with an open central courtyard. Peter was there, waiting outside while Jesus was being questioned.

Up until this point, Peter was being true to his word: he was staying by Jesus when the others fled. But someone, a woman servant, recognised him as a follower of Jesus, and challenged him. Peter took fright and said three times that he did not know Jesus. At once he was bitterly sorry for his own weakness.

Gospel reference: Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:56-62, John 18:25-27.

Saint Peter's Denial, Antoine/Louis Le Nain

Saint Peter’s Denial, Antoine/Louis Le Nain

The Denial of St Peter, Gerrit van Honthorst

The Denial of St Peter, Gerrit van Honthorst

The Third Denial of Peter, Caravaggio

The Third Denial of Peter, Caravaggio

Peter at the Resurrection

When Mary Magdalene burst into the room where the disciples huddled, and announced that Jesus had risen from the dead, Peter and the much younger John did not hesitate. They took off running as fast as they could towards the tomb. John outpaced Peter and arrived first. But as soon as Peter arrived, he went straight into the tomb, alone. There was no-one there – just a cloth lying where the body of Jesus had been. See more about this at Running to the Tomb.

Peter and John running to the tomb of Christ, by Eugene Burnand

Peter and John running to the tomb of Christ, by Eugene Burnand

Peter is imprisoned, and escapes

After Pentacost, Peter began a whole new phase of his life. Inspired, he began telling anyone who would listen about Jesus of Nazareth. He was, in effect, the father of early Christianity. It was not an easy path. The early Christians were hunted and imprisoned by Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great (who slaughtered the Innocents at the time of the birth of Jesus).

Peter too was imprisoned, but the Christian communities prayed and God set him free: an angel of the Lord appeared, the chains fell off his wrists, and Peter followed the angel out of the prison cell.

New Testament reference: Acts 12:1-11.

St Peter in Prison, Rembrandt

St Peter in Prison, Rembrandt

The Liberation of St Peter, Gerrit van Honthorst (click image to enlarge)

The Liberation of St Peter, Gerrit van Honthorst (click image to enlarge)

The Liberation of St Peter, Raphael

The Liberation of St Peter, Raphael

The Death of St Peter

There is no description of St Peter’s death in the New Testament, but traditionally he is supposed to have died in Rome during the persecution begun by the Emperor Nero. It was said he was crucified, like Jesus, but upside down.

The Crucifixion of St Peter, Caravaggio

The Crucifixion of St Peter, Caravaggio


The central events of St Peter’s life show a man of simplicity and faith. He suffered from a common human ailment: he wanted to do and be good, but was not always able to live up to his goals. Jesus loved and forgave him, because whenever Peter fell, he got up and tried again.

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Peter was there




Trial at the house of Caiaphas

Peter denies knowing Jesus

Peter and John at the tomb of Jesus

Rejection at Nazareth

Jesus rejected in Nazareth

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. What happened when Jesus arrived in Nazareth, the town where he had grown up?
  2. Why did the people of Nazareth take exception to Jesus?
  3. How did Jesus respond?
  4. Why was this story reassuring for the early Christians?

In brief:  Jesus returned to Nazareth, the town of his youth. He spoke in the synagogue, but the townspeople did not like what he said. They hurried him unceremoniously out of the town.

Returning homeReturning home

Nazareth would have looked something like thisNazareth is famous for one thing, and one thing only: it was the home town of Jesus. Here Jesus spent his boyhood living with his mother and father, and here that he faced the sceptical townsfolk of Nazareth.

The village seems to have been held in some contempt in 1st century Palestine – a nondescript dot on the map with not much to offer, overshadowed by nearby Sepphoris, the luxurious Greek-style capital recently built by Herod Antipas. It is beguiling to think that Joseph and Jesus, as builders, may have traipsed daily over to Sepphoris to work on the new city.

But time had passed. There was no mention of Joseph in the gospels at this point; it must be presumed that he had died (life expectancy was low) or was away working as an itinerant craftsman.

Mary may have been a widow; she seems to have been head of the family.

Read the blue text at end of page

At first, a positive reaction

The adult Jesus must have returned to his village a number of times to see his family, but this time there was an incident recorded in all three Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke).

NAZARETH_VILLAGE_SYNAGOGNazareth could not boast many celebrities among its population so when Jesus, now a charismatic and famous teacher, returned home he was at first greeted warmly. He had left Nazareth as a private person; now he returned as a Rabbi, accompanied by scholars and disciples.

He went to the tiny synagogue. The usual service consisted of prayers, readings from the Law and the Prophets, and a sermon. Any competent man present could lead the service.

Jesus’ audience was at first impressed by what he said.

Read green text at end of page

Nazareth rejects Jesus

But then things turned sour. People took exception to the Scripture passage he chose – it was Isaiah 61:1-2:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the oppressed; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour…

Having read through the passage, Jesus gave a discourse on what the words meant, and how they had now been fulfilled – in him. He made several points:

  • that Isaiah’s prophecy was now finally coming true
  • that the One anointed with the Spirit was Jesus himself
  • and that the time of God’s salvation had arrived.Jesus preaches in the synagogue at Nazareth, by Greg Olson

The people of Nazareth (and we may assume the synagogue was full) were startled at first, then hostile. They took exception to one of their own making such grandiose claims.

It may have been that, like many men whose birth was shadowed, Jesus had never been entirely accepted by the people he grew up with.

But someone in the congregation must have urged the others to give Jesus a chance. If he could show some tangible proof of his claims, then they would give more thought to the matter.

They had heard he cured the sick in nearby Capernaum. Let him do the same here in Nazareth.

Read the red text in Gospel passages at end of page

The effects of their unbelief

But Jesus was not a magician doing tricks to amuse the crowd. His miracles were vitally related to the faith and the moral condition of the person. Jesus could not perform a miracle for someone who was sceptical about his power and his identity. His miracles relied on

  • the inter-related power of God
  • the saving presence of Jesus
  • unconditional faith on the part of the person who wished to be cured.

These were not present in the people of Nazareth, and the gospels record that Jesus ‘could do no mighty works’ at Nazareth.

The people of Nazareth turned on him and ran him out of town. One of the gospels says that, in the ensuing mêlée, the rougher element among the villagers tried to kill him.

Jesus rejected in Nazareth, by Jeff Watkins

The painting by Jeff Watkins (above) shows the tumult of the moment, as Jesus is hustled and jostled out of Nazareth. The artist has captured the energy of the moment: Jesus is trying to leave, but is hemmed in and urged forward by the vigorous, angry men who abuse him. Are these the people he grew up with?

It was probably someone in this group who referred disparagingly to Jesus as ‘the son of Mary’ and ‘the carpenter’s son’ (see the passages from Matthew and Mark below). A Jewish man was normally referred to as ‘the son of (his father’s name)’, and we would expect Jesus to be called ‘the son of Joseph’. Calling him ‘the son of Mary’ implied Jesus could not even name his own father.Family Walking with God, Morgan Weistling

This particular gospel story was reassuring for the early Christians. They too were being rejected by their Jewish neighbours. They could take heart, as we can, from the fact that even Jesus was rejected by people he had known and trusted all his life.

The incident at Nazareth cannot have been a happy experience for anyone, especially Mary, who may have understood the villagers’ resentment but was forced to watch her son being vilified.

Read the black text in gospel passages at end of page

Extra information: the synagogue at nearby Capernaum

Excavated ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum

Excavated ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum

Jesus was based at Capernaum during his ministry to Galilee, but the synagogue pictured above is from a later century – Jesus did not teach in this building. However, the layout and floor-plan would have been the same:

  • a central space, in which the rabbi or commentator stood to read and speak
  • surrounding columns supporting the roof
  • aisle space behind the columns, lined with seats and benches.

This magnificent lime-stone synagogue was one of the largest and best-built of the Byzantine Period. Its walls, pavers and columns were made of white limestone from further west in Galilee, and contrasted sharply with the dark grey basalt stone of earlier buildings on this site.
The main room was flanked by two tiers of seats on the eastern and western sides, divided by two rows of columns.

Note: Jews at that time, before synagogues became popular, met in other places – an open square, a large house’s courtyard, an affluent person’s residence. Nazareth, poor as it was, may only have been able to offer this sort of setting to Jesus when he returned to his home town. The word ‘synagogue’ refers primarily to a gathering of people, and only secondarily to a formal structure – something that Jesus would have understood.

Frontal view of the remains of the interior of the synagogue at Capernaum

Frontal view of the Synagogue at Capernaum

Plan of the synagogue at Capernaum

Plan of the synagogue at Capernaum. A synagogue at Nazareth
would have been smaller and more modest in design.

What  the  Gospels say

There are two descriptions of the birth of Jesus. Matthew focuses on Joseph, Luke on Mary.

1. Returning home. Read the blue text

2. At first, a positive reaction. Read the green text

3. Rejection follows. Read the red text

3. The effects of their unbelief. Read the black text

Matthew 13:53-58 53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his own country he taught them in their synagogue,

so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house.”

58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

Mark 6:1-6 1 He went away from there and came to his own country; and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue;

and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands!

3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.”

5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief.

Luke 4:16-30 16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the Sabbath day.

And he stood up to read;

17 and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” 20 And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth;

and they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.'” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. 30 But passing through the midst of them he went away.

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Mary of Nazareth Extraordinary woman

Maps: where it happened

Parables of Jesus Ten famous stories

Wedding at Cana

Jesus’ miracle – water becomes wine

In brief: This story is not as simple as it seems. Changing water into wine at the marriage feast of Cana was Jesus’ first miracle. But he transformed himself as well: from an anonymous Galilean scholar into the man who would be Messiah.

The marriage at Cana

The marriage at Cana

Color, noise, happiness – this was a Middle Eastern wedding at the time of Jesus

Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle at a village marriage feast, was about three days’ journey on foot from the place where John the Baptist was preaching, and where Jesus was baptised. It was the scene of Jesus’ first miracle.

It happened at a wedding to which Jesus, his mother Mary and some of Jesus’ disciples were invited. Mary seems to have been the reason for the invitation: the gospel text says that Mary was there, and Jesus and some of his disciples had also been invited. Mary was the main guest; Jesus and the disciples seem to have been tag-alongs.

Giotto, detail from 'The Marriage Feast at Cana'.

Giotto, detail from ‘The Marriage Feast at Cana’. One of the household servants tests the wine at the Marriage Feast, and finds it to be very fine indeed…

The wedding would have been a lively affair. It was a village wedding, so everyone knew everyone else. Unfortunately we know nothing about the bride and groom. Perhaps they were relatives of Mary’s.

Read the blue text at end of page

Mary, a Jewish mother

It would be embarrassing to run out of alcohol at a wedding reception you were hosting. But remember that this story took place in the Middle East, in an ancient peasant household. There, it was a disaster.

It was a gross discourtesy and a shameful humiliation to have to admit that you had not provided enough wine for the guests who came to a marriage feast at your house.

Mary knew this only too well. She may even have experienced something similar in her own life, or in the lives of villagers from Nazareth. She was immediately sympathetic to the plight of her host, and wanted to help in whatever way she could.

  • The first way to help was, of course, to be discreet. The less people knew about the dilemma, the better.
  • The second was to remedy the situation. Mary approached Jesus. Help them, she said.

The Marriage Feast at Cana, by Jan Vermeyen

The Marriage Feast at Cana, painting by Jan Vermeyen. The face of Jesus (at right) is composed, almost drowsy, but his hands seem charged with energy. The people around him are already beginning to whisper…

The question is, why did she do this? She may have known her son was extraordinary, but why would she think he could solve this? Did she have an intuitive awareness of what he would become? Or of the power that he had?

And if he had these powers, why did he rebuff her? ‘What business of that is mine? My time has not yet come.’

Mary may merely have been prompting her son to do something to help in this crisis – like getting more wine from someone or some house nearby. It may be that guests, especially if they were close friends or relatives, brought along food and drink to supplement what the host provided.

But if so, what did Jesus mean when he said that his time has not yet come?

Read the green text at end of page

Marriage at Cana, Gerard David. No attempt at historical accuracy here – this woman is definitely not a Galileean peasant. But what splendor, what sumptuous beauty, what lavish color. Notice the delicate cloud of her hair. The food looks good too….

The miracle

Whatever the reason, Mary succeeded in nudging Jesus into activity. She was the traditional Jewish mother, unwilling to let her child remain inactive. She simply told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them.

There were six large stone water jars nearby. These were used for ceremonial washing – stone did not absorb impurities like clay, and so stone jars were used to store water was needed for ritual washing before a meal. They were apparently empty, the water in them used up by the many guests.


Wedding at Cana, Veronese, detail of the wine steward. The man is nearly as round as the barrel he holds, God bless him…

Jesus told the servants to fill six stone jars full of water, and they did so. Then he told them to scoop some of the water out and take it to the man in charge of the wedding. This they also did.

When the steward tasted the water, now turned into wine, he was impressed – not by the miracle, because he did not know about that, but by the quality of the wine.

This, you will remember, was on the third day of the wedding, and people had been drinking for three solid days. Usually the host would arrange for the best wine to be put out first; at that stage, people were cold sober, and could assess the quality of the wine.

Now it seemed that this custom had been ignored. Instead, the steward tasted high quality wine, something he did not expect at this stage of the wedding festivities.

Whether he ever found out the truth, we do not know.

It is at this moment that Jesus first allows the people around him to see what he really is: the Messiah, long-awaited and now here at last. The water is the past. He is the wine, the promised future.

Read the red text at end of page

What happened next? See Rejection at Nazareth

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Why was Jesus at the wedding at Cana?
  2. Why was running out of wine so catastrophic for the hosts of this wedding feast?
  3. What did Mary do? What did Jesus do?
  4. Why was this event so important – for Jesus, and for us?

What John’s gospel says

1. The marriage at Cana. Read the blue text

Fine pictures higher up on this page, but now for the reality….

2. The Jewish mother. Read the green text

3. The miracle. Read the red text

John 2:1-11 1 On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples.

3 When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6 Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

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Mary of Nazareth Extraordinary woman

Maps: where it happened


Satan, the Devil, tempts Jesus

In brief: Jesus had to face something we all face: temptation. 

Satan offered three things to Jesus: 

      • The ability to survive danger
      • Control over Nature
      • Absolute power

What did Jesus do? He rejected Satan. He knew that in fact the Devil had no control over any of these things. His promises were empty.

The lesson? The Son of God will always be victorious over the Powers of Darkness.

Into The Wilderness

Before Jesus could teach others, he had to face temptation: meet Satan face to face, confront him and defeat him.


Jesus looks out over the kingdoms of the Earth: the third temptation

The loneliness of this struggle was terrible. There were no friends to support him, only the wild beasts and the harsh desert.

The Devil encouraged Jesus to

  • misuse his divine powers
  • gain his purpose in the world by obeying the Devil instead of his Father
  • doubt the reality of his Father’s love and care.

The first temptation: stone to bread

temptation food

Jesus tempted to turn stone into bread

Jesus fasted for forty days.

What did that mean?

Fasting probably meant living off the land, not starving.

But there is very little food or water in the desert. Jesus survived, but he was physically weakened and mentally drained. This is when the Devil was most able to entice him – watch yourself and your actions when you are tired and drained. This is when you are tempted by Evil.

The first temptation urged Jesus to use his status as the Son of God to satisfy his hunger.

‘Make these stone into bread’, the Devil said to Jesus. ‘Your body needs you to do it. You are after all the Son of God. What’s the good of your power if you don’t use it?’

This was not simply about food. The Devil was urging Jesus to upset God’s pattern of creation by making something into what it is not meant to be, and using his power as Son of God for himself, and not in God’s service.

But Jesus would not do as the Devil suggested.

Stone to bread

Stone to bread, Christ in the Desert, Kramskoi

The second temptation

temple temptation

Jesus tempted at the pinnacle of the Temple

(Luke and Matthew place the temptations in a different order)

The Devil/Evil tried a second ploy. He took Jesus to the ‘holy city’- presumably Jerusalem. There he lifted Jesus and placed him on a ‘pinnacle’ of the Temple – probably some projecting turret or rooftop. (See Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem)

With breathtaking blasphemy, the Devil quoted God himself: ‘Jump’ he said. ‘God will surely protect you from harm, since you are His Son. He will send an angel to scoop you up and keep you safe.’

It was a seductive trick. But Jesus knew the quotation had been ripped out of its context – the Devil was actually mocking God’s words.

Jesus’ response was contemptuous. ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’ (Deuteronomy. 6:14).

  • No-one, said Jesus, not even the Devil, could put God the Creator to the test.
  • We are God’s creatures. He is not ours.

model Jerusalem stairway

Reconstruction of a stairway leading to the Temple precincts, with what could be described as a ‘pinnacle’ above

The Third Temptation


The Devil offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world

The Devil/Evil then tried a third ploy.

He took Jesus to the peak of the highest mountain in the world (people at the time believed that the Earth was flat).

The world was spread out before them and the Devil, like a prospective seller, pointed out all the kingdoms of the world.

‘Worship me’ said the Devil, ‘give yourself over to me, and I will give you power over all this.’

Once again there are echoes of the Old Testament, when the People of God were dissatisfied with God and were tempted to worship the Golden Calf.

Here was the entire world, over which Jesus would exercise complete power. Think of all the good he could do!

But the world, Jesus knew, did not belong to the Devil. It was not his to give. Satan’s promise was not to be trusted. Bowing to him was incompatible with serving God.

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. What is the first temptation? Immortality – meaning nothing can hurt you, and you do not fear Death. Would this tempt you?
  2. What is the second temptation? Power over Nature – in other words, Magic. Would this tempt you?
  3. What is the third temptation? Power to do anything, have anything you want. ‘I’ll give you the world..’ Would this tempt you?

Which of the temptations is the most seductive for you?

What the Gospels say

1. The first temptation, read the blue text

2. The second temptation. Read the green text

3. The third temptation. Read the red text

Matthew 4:1-11

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

2 And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry.

3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple,

6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”

7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them;

9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

10 Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'”

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.

Mark 1:12-13

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.

Luke 4:1-13

1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit

2 for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry.

3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”

4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.'”

5 And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time,

6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.

7 If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.”

8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'”

9 And he took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here;

10 for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,’

11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”

12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'”

13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

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