Parable Poems

by Robert Brow


A Preface to the 1996 Edition

Jesus used parables which suggested a model of God's love in contrast to conventional wisdom. So in the 1983 edition of Living Totally: Without Guilt I tried to lighten the text with some parables expressed in the stark form of some modern poetry.

Rather than include those parable-poems in the text of the digital edition of Living Totally: Without Guilt (1996), they are collected here in a revised form with others in the same genre. They might serve as a reminder that explanatory models can be cold logical things, and usually our motivation springs from the far deeper emotions of our heart.


The parable-poems are impressions from a lifetime of ministry, marriage, and conversations with men and women of all ages in India, Europe, Britain, Arabia, the United States and Canada. No parable should be viewed as referring to a particular person or couple.

Susanne Smith removed many obscurities from the first draft of the parable-poems.

Lucy Shaw, who is a wonderful poet in the genuine sense, graciously made corrections in the 1983 edition, and encouraged me to work at this genre of writing.


After many years of theologising I discovered that Jesus' main method of speaking to ordinary people was to use parables. "With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; but he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything" (Mark 4:33-34).

Some people have successfully written parables in short story form. But Jesus' parables use a minimum of words that grab us before we know what is happening. In an attempt to achieve that effect I wrote very terse prose that looked more like poetry but mostly isn't. The one aim is to tell a story with a minimum of embellishment in a form that is visually easy to grasp. If a reader finds the parable-poems readable, I am glad, but please don't label me a poet and judge by those much higher standards.

Parables are not meant to be read like novels. They are encountered to make us think. Nor are parables to be interpreted like allegories in which every detail is designed to have a meaning. The Good Samaritan offers a model to tell us what a neighbour is. We are not to fasten on the oil and the wine, the donkey and the two pence for the inn keeper (Luke 10:29-37). The Prodigal Son tells us what what love is. We confuse the model if try to guess at the spiritual meaning of the ring and the shoes (Luke 15:11-32).

Similarly with the parables and stories I have written. Each of them offers a model for good or for evil of how someone looks at life. Use the parable or story or life experience if it catches your attention. But don't try to interpret the meaning of little details. The odds are I just used them to help the story, not to convey additional truth.

Jesus' parables usually have an irony, sarcasm, or sudden twist in them. That is the lever that gets in behind the previous model we have taken for granted, and topples it in one direction or another. In many cases the model that God has in mind for us is not mentioned, but we are freed to discover it for ourselves.

I have included a proportion of the Bible's own stories, parables, and fantasies. Some of them fill us with horror. And in some cases the language is erotic. That is because theology deals with loving: the love of a passionate God. Throughout the Bible sexual imagery is entwined with family symbols. God has to be understood by the language of father love, mother love, brotherly love, sonship, adoption, husband and wife, intercourse, conception and birth, unfaithfulness, reconciliation, the pain of divorce. So I hope the prudish reader will remember that God invented sex, speaks about it lustily in the Bible, and in fact needs sexual feelings, and the words connected with them, to clarify heaven's model of what God's love is about.

Every experience whether in fact or fantasy, of good sex or bad sex, an idyllic situation or tragedy, compassion or brutality, makes us choose our direction. We choose by joy or by revulsion. Either we are drawn to greater loving and community and light, or we draw back into manipulation, self centredness, and outer darkness. In due course our explanatory models will reflect that, unless we manage to live by one standard and hypocritically judge by another.

Most people feel their way painfully into loving by their life experiences. But a safer way to set our direction is by encountering the life and teachings of the Son of God. As John's Gospel explains, "This is the judgment (the Greek word is krisis), that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). I would like every parable and story in this book to point directly, tangentially, or by revulsion, to that Light.