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Springboard stories: The parables of Jesus

A religious version of stories that communicate values may be found in Jesus's parables.

The Greek word for parable pictures two things laid side by side for comparison. We say a parable is a story about something from everyday life that Jesus used to teach on how to live. His stories feature ordinary events: A farmer sows his seed. A rich man accuses his manager of wasting his possessions. A king prepares a wedding banquet for his son. Everyday stuff in Jesus' world.

There was usually a surprise in these "ordinary" stories, an unexpected twist of plot. How could a master praise his dishonest manager? How could a Samaritan be the hero of a story? What landlord would let tenant farmers kill one servant after another, then send his son to be murdered too? What king would take to the streets to invite anyone he could find, good and bad alike, to come to his son's wedding?

The parable of the sower

Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. (Matthew 13.3)

The parable of the talents

Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.

After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. (Matthew 25: 14)

Note the characteristics of parables, or stories that transmit values:

a. The parables are told in a minimalist fashion – there is no character development or attempt to set the scene. In this they are similar to springboard stories, and different from stories to share knowledge (which are told in a maximalist fashion).

b. Unlike springboard stories, the parables are not true stories that purport to have actually happened. They take place in some generic past that might or might not have happened. They are however believable – the train of events is plausible.

c. The parable may have either a positive tone as in the Parable of the Sower or a negative tone as in the Parable of the Talents. The tone is less important in a parable than in a springboard story, since the aim is not to spark action, but rather to enhance understanding of the values that are expected.

d. Perhaps the most important element is the fact that the parable embodies a conflict of values. If the story reflects one value, it will be shallow and superficial. Why should you take the talent from the poor man and give it to the rich? It's through the conflict of values, that the significance of values becomes apparent.


Stephen Denning: The Leader's Guide to Storytelling, (2005) chapter 6.

See Stephen Denning, Squirrel Inc: A Fable of Leadership and Storytelling (Jossey-Bass: June 2004),

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