POEMS BASED ON JESUS’S PARABLES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The Unmerciful Servant
The Vineyard Labourers
The Two Sons
The Prince’s Marriage
The Ten Virgins
The Secret Seed
The Absent Householder
The Two Debtors
The Good Samaritan
The Importunate Friend
The Rich Fool
The Waiting Servants
The Faithful Steward
The Barren Fig Tree
The Great Supper
The Tower and the Warring King
The Lost Coin
The Prodigal Son
The Unjust Steward
The Rich Man and Lazarus
The Unprofitable Servants
The Unrighteous Judge
The Pharisee and the Publican
The Rock and the Sand
The Leaven and the Lump
The Lost Sheep
The Candle and the Bushel
The New Patch
The New Wine
The Mustard Seed
The Wicked Husbandmen
“While everyone lay fast asleep,
that devil took me unawares
and sowed my wheat-field with his tares,
a baneful crop for me to reap.
But though I see them thickly sprout,
I tell you not to pull them out
in case you harm the tender wheat
whose good grain gives us bread to eat;
but rather wait till harvest-time
to extirpate the weeds of crime:
then shall the reapers use their skill
to store the good and burn the ill.”
Mt 13:24-30, 36-43
“All my money for this field!
I must have it. I will pay.
For I know that in its clay
greater riches lie concealed:
when they see the light of day,
I shall have a golden yield.”
“My shelves are bare,
my tables clear,
and all my merchandise is sold.
What I thought rare,
what I sold dear,
appears before this pearl I hold
like dross before the purest gold.
Bought to make bright baubles pale,
what I have is not for sale.”
“All you catfish, carp and bream,
in one lake you breed and teem,
in one sea you swim and feed.
You may come with darting fin,
you may come with flashing scales,
you may come with mouth agape;
but the men will pay no heed
to your colour, size or shape
when they draw the dragnet in.
Only on the sandy beach,
where they spread their drying sails
and your home lies out of reach,
is your future truly set:
good fish then are put in pails,
for they will be needed yet;
but the bad are tossed aside,
though they too were in the net
which was flung out far and wide.”
THE UNMERCIFUL SERVANT
“Wicked servant! You will pay
for the meanness you have shown.
When I heard your heartfelt plea,
I put off the servile day,
I annulled your massive loan,
pitied you and set you free.
With a smile you went away,
then put on a face of stone
for that fellow whom you met,
who owed you a hundred pence.
Though he owed a tiny debt,
and your own debt was immense
which it pleased me to forget,
which my hand chose not to weigh,
yet your eye was quick to see
when you came to claim your own,
and you soon forgot the sweat
you exuded, pale and tense,
when you knelt before my throne.”
THE VINEYARD LABOURERS
“Friend, I have not done you wrong;
I have not ignored your sweat.
You have had the wage assigned
for a day of work and heat.
You are jealous; I am kind.
Should the sun refuse to beat
on the man who labours long?
Should the sun refuse to set
on the man whose toil was brief?
Greedy men may call me thief,
but while wealthy men are strong
I shall never change my mind.”
THE TWO SONS
“I shall go without delay:
you may count on what I say;
you may trust me to obey.”
(Who will ask me if I went?
Who will know that I was sent?
I shall go elsewhere today.)
“I refuse to do your will.”
(I have not yet had my fill
of the taste of good and ill.
If I find that I was blind,
I may come to change my mind…
I may do your bidding still.)
THE PRINCE’S MARRIAGE
“Those I summoned all refused.
Farmers asked to be excused;
merchants said they must decline,
had no time for wedding-feasts,
slaughtered bullocks, fatted beasts,
no time for that son of mine.
Others murdered those I sent,
making clear their true intent
treasonably to conspire,
till I set their town on fire.
So I sent my men to call
bad and good – yes, one and all -
from the corners of the streets,
till there were no empty seats.
“Now I find this boorish guest
has neglected to get dressed;
to appear his very best
was the least he could have done
for my one and only son.
So, my servants, take this lout,
tie him up and turn him out.”
THE TEN VIRGINS
“Surely he will soon arrive -
spare some oil, you prudent five!
All we foolish virgins ask
is the oil dregs from your flask,
oil to keep our lamps alive.”
“While you slept your lights grew dim,
but we all have lamps to trim:
what you ask we cannot give;
our lamps too need oil to live.
You must go and buy your own -
though, indeed, you might have known,
setting out to light the way
on the bridegroom’s happy day
when he came to meet his bride,
you would need to bring some more.
Hurry, lest he shut the door,
lest you knock and be denied!”
“Wicked, lazy, worthless slave!
This no master could excuse.
What I lent you failed to use,
you have tarnished what I gave.
Did you go with it to trade?
Did you put it in the bank?
No, since you were too afraid
that your master liked to reap
where he had not scattered seed!
Now you have yourself to thank
for the price that you will pay
for your cowardly misdeed:
banished from the light of day,
you will gnash your teeth and weep.
Buried seeds are quick to grow;
buried talents very slow.”
THE SECRET SEED
“When I went to bed last night,
seed lay scattered on my land,
scattered by my hopeful hand
in the evening’s fading light.
Now the fresh new day is born,
I observe the sprouting blade,
out of which the ear is made
and, from it, the full-grown corn.
Soon a bristling crop will stand
for the whole world to observe,
ready for the reapers’ band
and the sickle’s sharpened curve.”
THE ABSENT HOUSEHOLDER
“You do not know the hour or day;
I tell you all to watch and pray.
Servant, who have your pay to earn,
busy yourself for my return!
Porter, who have my door to keep,
let me not find you fast asleep!
Evening or midnight, cock-crow, dawn –
no time for you to stretch and yawn!
Servants who love me, stay awake!
Watch for your absent master’s sake.”
THE TWO DEBTORS
“Hearing that the Pharisee
had invited you to eat,
thinking you might pity me,
I came here to kiss your feet,
bathe them with my fallen tears;
came to wipe your wet feet dry
with my loose and fallen hair
and to lavish something rare,
such as sinful earnings buy,
ointment which my hand now smears
on your unassuming toes.
One forgiven what he owes,
if he owes a little debt,
shows but little gratitude;
I, whom decent men exclude,
came to kneel here on the floor,
came to make your good feet wet
and to show I love you more.”
THE GOOD SAMARITAN
“Though I may be deeply moved,
little is my pity worth:
you have hated me from birth;
all our enmity stands proved.
Yet, though Levite, scribe and priest
judge my people full of sin,
you are lying injured there…
Might I not show human care,
lift you gently on my beast,
take you to a wayside inn?
“See, your wounds are tightly bound,
bathed with olive oil and wine;
but, although my flesh is sound,
how I wish you might bind mine!”
* * * * * * * * *
“Sir, accept these silver coins,
since today I must depart.
Though these bandages may bind,
oil and wine soothe beaten loins,
love restores the stricken heart,
friendship heals the bitter mind.”
THE IMPORTUNATE FRIEND
“Though at first I paid no heed
to your knocking at my door
and, when you began to plead,
‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,
for I have no food in store
for my unexpected guest’,
I called back, ‘The door is locked,
and my children are in bed
with me; I cannot attend
even to a needy friend’,
after you had knocked and knocked
and continued to implore -
knowing I should get no rest
till I granted your request,
I gave in to you and said,
‘I will give you all you need’.”
THE RICH FOOL
“My soul required tonight?
I do not understand.
My soul consists of grain,
my life of fertile land;
and here I must remain,
or else my worth is slight.
Besides, it is not fair
to take my soul away:
it has not had its share
of luxury and play,
of years devoid of care
and barns brim-full of corn.
I must depart forlorn
and naked I must walk,
a bare and brittle stalk,
if I depart today.”
THE WAITING SERVANTS
“Let your loins be girt,
let your night-lights burn.
Servants, stay alert!
Wait for my return.
You who served my meal,
servants who were true,
with a greater zeal
I shall wait on you.”
THE FAITHFUL STEWARD
“Faithful steward! Coming late,
I knocked gently on my gate,
found you busy in my hall.
You shall tackle something great
as you tackled something small:
you shall manage my estate.”
* * * * * * * *
“Faithless steward! Absent long,
I returned to end your song,
spill your wine and break your cup,
show you who is truly strong.
Bully, I will cut you up,
since you did my household wrong!”
THE BARREN FIG TREE
“Sir, I know how it appears:
this tree uses up the soil;
tended for the last three years,
it has not produced one fig,
not one fruit for all my toil.
Yet I ask for one more year:
let me dung and let me dig.
Think what sweet fruit may appear
on that tree; but should its crown
still prove barren, cut it down.”
THE GREAT SUPPER
“All is ready: come and dine!
Taste my master’s food and wine.”
“I must view my piece of land.
I regret I must decline;
no doubt he will understand.”
“I must try my oxen out.
I regret I must decline;
he will understand, no doubt.”
“I must be with my new wife.
I regret I must decline:
duties come with married life.”
* * * * * * *
“Servant, scour each lane and street,
summon those who have no name,
poor and crippled, blind and lame;
scour each highway, hedge and ditch,
summon those who need to eat.
As for the complacent rich,
they shall never taste my meat.”
THE TOWER AND THE WARRING KING
“Count the cost before you build
something for the world to see,
lest your tower be incomplete
and your purpose unfulfilled,
lest you walk with stumbling feet
when you go to follow me.
“Sit and think before you face
one who brings a greater force;
sit and reckon up the odds.
Terms for peace are no disgrace
when the other force is God’s:
think, and take the wiser course.”
THE LOST COIN
“Come, rejoice, my friends and neighbours!
Now my worrying may cease.
See the outcome of my labours:
I have found the missing piece.
It was hard to recognise;
buried deep in dust it lay.
I might well have turned away,
well have missed my silver prize;
but the lamplight pierced the gloom,
and the sweeping of my broom
let its glinting touch my eyes,
making this a happy day.”
THE PRODIGAL SON
“Famished, I covet the carob-pods
I feed to a Gentile’s squealing herd,
for I have wasted my precious third
and sinned in my father’s eyes – and God’s.
Enough of starving in foreign lands,
when my father’s men have food to spare!
I shall return, no longer an heir,
but to be hired as one of his hands.”
* * * * * * * *
“Father, I have sinned before
God and you, and am no more
worthy to be called your son…”
“My dear son, all you have done
I have followed in my heart.
Let the joyful feasting start!
You shall have the honoured seat.
Servants, sandals for his feet!
Fetch my finest robe and ring!
I have got back, safe and sound,
my lost son, who now is found.
Let us kill the calf and sing!
“You, my elder son, begrudge
what I freely choose to give
your young brother, and you judge
him and me with harsh disdain.
You are always at my side,
having chosen to remain,
and will get my whole estate.
But we had to celebrate
when your brother, who had died,
rose from death and chose to live.”
THE UNJUST STEWARD
“So! You wrote off half the debts
when you knew you had to go,
thinking you would win some friends –
not for you the spade or hoe,
not for you the begging-bowl!
Yet your master now commends
what another might call theft,
and I hope no one forgets
what you did before you left.
For your actions, so astute,
will not fail to bear some fruit,
nor was mammon in your soul.
When the time for wealth has passed –
masters, managers and rents –
may they welcome you at last
into the eternal tents!”
THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS
“While you banqueted indoors,
scorning what the prophets said,
Lazarus lay at your gate,
left to his unhappy fate,
left to make a painful bed
with the dogs that licked his sores.
Lazarus is happy now,
but he cannot cool your lips
with his wetted fingertips;
this great gulf does not allow
heaven and hell a meeting-place.
Can he warn the living race
if they scorn what Moses said?
They will never spare a crumb
for the beggar to be fed,
though a dead man rise and come
with a message from the dead.”
THE UNPROFITABLE SERVANTS
“You must devote
your time and strength
to pleasing me;
and when you run
from plough or fold
to serve my meal,
do not reveal
that you are tired
but, lest you fall,
tuck up your coat;
and then, at length,
when you are free
to eat and drink,
sit down and think
that you have done
as you were told,
as I desired…
and that is all.”
THE UNRIGHTEOUS JUDGE
“God I do not fear at all;
I have no respect for you,
nor can you afford to pay.
But your never-ending call
for my judgement in your case
slaps me daily in the face,
and your nuisance in my court
has compelled me to decide.
Lest you beat me black and blue
with your coming day by day,
I will see you satisfied;
justice is my last resort.”
THE PHARISEE AND THE PUBLICAN
“Here in the temple I stand and pray.
God, look down on my fellow mortals;
I thank thee that I am not as they,
but duly follow the righteous way
of regular tithe and fasting day
and stand up straight within thy portals.
Look at them – extortioners, unjust,
or adulterers, the toys of lust.
Well may that publican beat his breast,
for he is as sinful as the rest;
well may he fix his gaze in the dust.”
* * * * * * * * * *
“O God, my sin has set me far apart
from you, who see the secrets of my heart.
Have mercy on me; grant that I may be
henceforth as upright as that Pharisee.”
“Here is your pound, sir; I hid it away,
knowing that you were a crook and a thief,
counting it safest in my handkerchief
till you reclaimed it on reckoning day.”
“That pound was your life, you coward and fool!
I lent it to you to use and increase.
Upon my return in new royal power,
whatever the day, whatever the hour,
you knew that such caution would bring no reward,
such meanness of spirit no city to rule.
My enemies must be put to the sword;
but trustworthy servants will prosper in peace.”
THE ROCK AND THE SAND
“Listen to my words and act:
build your house on solid rock,
digging its foundations deep.
Such a house will stay intact;
no storm will disturb your sleep.
If you hold my message cheap,
your house rests on shifting sand.
In the storm it will not stand;
you will waken with the shock
when it tumbles in a heap.”
Mt 7:24-27; Lk 6:46-49
THE LEAVEN AND THE LUMP
The kingdom of heaven
resembles the leaven
that leavens the mass:
it raises the flour
and makes it all heave
with bubbles of gas
and makes it ferment;
and those who believe
and those who repent
have tasted its power.
Mt 13:33; Lk 13:20-21
THE LOST SHEEP
“Yes, I left you all behind
staring in the wilderness,
all you docile ninety-nine!
Though the path was rough and steep,
though I cared for you no less
than the one I went to find,
since the missing one was mine
I was bound to leave you sheep,
and it was a joy to lay
on my shoulders this one stray.”
Mt 18:12-14; Lk 15:3-7
THE CANDLE AND THE BUSHEL
“Like a lamp fixed on the wall,
shining out, dispelling gloom,
like a city on a hill,
visible to all around,
you must be a light to all,
never hiding what you are.
In a store-room underground,
underneath a bed or jar,
with a meal-tub over it,
who knows if your light is lit,
whether it is dim or bright?
To God’s glory may you fill
all the body, all the room,
all the world, with shining light.”
Mt 5:14-16; Mk 4:21-25; Lk 8:16, 11:33-36
THE NEW PATCH
“One must not devote
an uncarded strip
to mending a rip
in an outworn coat.
How can new cloth match
a garment grown old,
or tattered rags hold
an unshrunken patch?”
Mt 9:16; Mk 2:21; Lk 5:36
THE NEW WINE
“You cannot well consign
a still fermenting wine
to skins of hard old leather;
the losses that ensue
proclaim that old and new
do not belong together.”
Mt 9:17; Mk 2:22; Lk 5:37-38
“Broadly though my seed is cast,
still the earth must hold it fast.
Trodden paths admit no seed;
there the birds swoop down to feed.
Shallow soil permits no root;
heat will scorch the hasty shoot.
Thistles choke the growing corn;
vainly there the crop is born.
Only good soil takes a hold,
bearing fruit a hundredfold.”
The kingdom of heaven begins with a seed
so tiny that birds ignore it when sown;
but when it leaps up with phenomenal speed
they flock to observe the tree that has grown;
and though its beginnings were slight and unknown,
they do not despise the shade it allows
and many decide to nest in its boughs.
Mt 13:31-32; Mk 4:30-32; Lk 13:18-19
THE WICKED HUSBANDMEN
“Of the servants whom I sent,
some you thrashed and some you stoned,
some you beat about the head,
some you killed or left for dead;
anything but pay your rent!
So I sent my own dear son,
sent the heir to all I owned;
but you rubbed your hands and said,
‘Now the vineyard will be ours,
winepress, wall and look-out towers;
now our freedom will be won’.
So you took my son and heir
and, outside the vineyard wall,
stained the earth a darker red
than the juice the winepress bled.
Now, you wicked men, I swear
by the precious blood you shed,
other men shall have your share
and your wine be turned to gall.”