Spring is a great time to have fun with your kids and teach them some of the parables of Jesus at the same time. Parables are great. They were short stories told by Jesus that helped people understand more difficult spiritual concepts by using things they encountered in their every day lives.
Because Israel in the time of Jesus still had many people who spent time or lived in more rural areas, many of the parables deal with livestock or growing things. Unfortunately our children, who tend to live in more suburban and urban areas may not have a lot of experience with either farm animals or growing plants. When they hear some of the parables and their meaning, they may understand it a little by the words, but they don’t have that core understanding the culture of the time gave the initial listeners.
So grab your kids and head to your favorite store to buy plants. Even if you live in a city like New York, you can grab pots or containers and have a window, patio or even roof garden. Try to have at least a couple of plants that provide food. You may even want to grow some plants mentioned in the Bible.
Have your kids help plant and care for the plants or seeds. As you plant talk about the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-8, Mark 4:3-8). What if you planted the seeds or plants in the different types of soils mentioned in the parables? If you have the space and money for materials, why not give it a try? Ask your kids what they think will happen. Encourage them to think of why Jesus gave that as an example of the different ways people act after they learn about God.
While you are planting seeds, notice their size. Ask your kids how big they think the full grown plant will be. Tell them the parable of the mustard seed. (Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:31-32) If you have the spice mustard seed in your pantry, show your kids the mustard seed. Help them look up online how big the mustard plant grows to be. (Our seed is a little different I believe, but the principle still holds true.) Ask them why they think Jesus used that as an example of our faith. Did Jesus mean we had to have huge faith or a little faith for God to help us?
If your yard is like ours, it won’t take long for weeds to begin to grow with your plants. Even our pots on the deck often get weeds. As your kids help you weed, tell them the parable of the tares. (Matthew 13:24-30) Help them find a picture of tares on the internet. In some areas you may have weeds with thorns that grow. Even though they probably aren’t tares, they will give your kids an idea of why people didn’t like to pull them – especially when they were growing next to a delicate plant like grain. Then ask your kids why they think they would gather the tares at harvest time. Why would they burn the weeds? Why does God use the tares to teach us about Satan, sin and those who chose to be “weeds” instead of the helpful “plants” God wants them to be?
As your plants begin to flower and produce fruits and vegetables – or not, tell your kids the parable of the barren fig tree. (Luke 13:6-9) Why would people be upset if a fig tree didn’t produce figs? Would they be upset if the plants you planted didn’t grow like they were supposed to grow? Why does Jesus use that as an example of Christians who don’t “bear fruit”?
If you are groaning plants that like grapevines must be pruned back to produce more flowers or fruits/vegetables, tell them the parable of the vine (John 15:1-6). How does pruning help some plants produce more? What happens to what is pruned from the plant? Why is it pruned? How can Christians be “pruned” by God and why would He do it?
Have some kids who want to work with your plants more than others? That may be a great time to share the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). It won’t encourage those who aren’t pulling their weight to do their fair share, but in a way that’s what makes it interesting. Wouldn’t God want all of us working for Him all of the time? Why do your kids think Jesus told this parable? Do they think it is “fair” those who got to work later in the day got paid the same as the others? Why did Jesus say it was? How does this parable apply to Christians?
Jesus told quite a few parables. Take a look at the list and see if there are other fun, practical ways for your kids to learn from experience what they mean. It will help the lessons Jesus wanted them to learn more understandable and even more memorable because they are now attached to spending wonderful quality time doing something with you!