It is a usual Sunday morning; you are in your accustomed pew in church as you listen to the homily. You have been following along, noting interesting points, but then your mind begins to wander. You sneak a peek at the bulletin or observe the interesting pattern on the dress of the woman in front of you. But then, you hear the homilist say, “Let me illustrate with a story,” and just like that you are back at full attention. We love hearing stories. During these weeks of Ordinary Time, we will hear many of these beloved stories, also known to us as parables in our Sunday Gospels.
The use of parables to illustrate a point has a long history. Greek philosophers and Jewish rabbis used parables to weed out students who were weak-minded, as well as using them to challenge the thinkers. Forty-six parables of Jesus are recorded in sacred Scripture, and Jesus used images such as mustard seeds and fig trees, wineskins and oil lamps, money and buried treasure, judges and persistent old women, to create a way to break open his teachings for people. His stories about the kingdom of God, loss and forgiveness and prayer, and the “new heaven” appealed to the young and old, poor and rich, the learned and illiterate as well.
The parables of Jesus still appeal to us today. His parables have an endearing quality. We share in the same frustration of having weeds springing up and taking over our gardens, as did the people of Jesus’ time. The message of parables is ageless. The parables are still relevant to our everyday lives even after 2,000 years of technological, social and political changes in our world. Parables have an air of mystery in them; they are like a riddle. Often in Jesus’ teaching, after he shared the parable, he would go back and break it open for the people, piece by piece, revealing each deeper level. He would explain that in a particular parable the good seed was people open to his teaching and the condition of the soil matched the level of faith in their lives. These explanations caused the listeners to have their “aha” moments.
We, like our ancestors, love that moment when “we get it.” Parables are memorable. Sitting at Mass this weekend, we may forget many of the points made in the homily, but if a story is used to illustrate them, we stand a good chance of remembering the story and thus the lesson. Lastly, parables engage us. We begin reflecting, “What is Jesus saying here, what is he saying to me?” We ponder the deeper meaning and application, which helps us to grow in faith and morals.
The parables have become a source of inspiration for works of art and music. Look at your church windows; do you see the image of the prodigal son or the Good Samaritan, oil lamps or a buried treasure? Consider the number of hymns we sing that employ the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, carrying the young lamb on his shoulder.
During these next 15 weeks of Ordinary Time, as we listen to the Gospel, let us be mindful that the parables of Jesus contain great volumes of truth not easily forgotten. May the parables become a blessing to those with ears willing to hear and hearts open to receive.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.