The Living Rite column explores what you will see, hear, taste, touch or smell while at church this weekend.
Centuries before the written word was ever put to a page, the history of humanity was passed orally from one generation to the next. Storytelling began with gatherings around primitive fires and evolved to the “remember when” that surfaces during any communal gathering. This Sunday’s Gospel contains three familiar parables, with the New Testament containing at least 40 more.
Jesus grew to adulthood raised on the stories of the teachers and elders (later called “rabbis”). When it appeared that a certain teaching was too difficult for listeners to understand, the teacher created simple word-pictures, called parables, to illustrate the point.
Jesus became a master storyteller and used images and characters from everyday life to create examples of his message. He would begin with a familiar concept such as looking for a lost coin and then move the story to a new level; challenging his listeners to new conclusions. The parables of Jesus contained humor such as the image of a camel passing through the needle’s eye (a small gate in Jerusalem), riddles, twists and turns. For example, his listeners would scratch their heads over why a shepherd would go off and even risk his life to find one lost sheep when 99 are in safekeeping.
The beauty of parables is that their imagery and story is not easily forgotten. The challenge of listening to parables is how you will apply them. You could just enjoy them as a series of good, centuries-old stories. Hopefully, however, we have all grown spiritually in these past 2,000 years. That should give us the possibility of understanding, on a much deeper level, the lessons Jesus was trying to teach. While we do not have the experience of some of his original examples, we can understand them in light of our own experience. We do not put new wine in old wineskins, but during this time of harvest we do know the importance of using sterilized jars in canning. We can come to the same conclusion as the early listeners did.
As you listen to the three parables this Sunday, put yourself into each one. Question yourself: What is so important to me that, if I lost it, I would do anything to get it back? What in life means so much to me that I am willing to put all my time and energy into pursuing it? Or as you listen to the story of the Prodigal Son, look at yourself in the light of the older son, as we move ahead in the New Evangelization, where is your heart in regard to those “prodigals” that may be finding their way back to our house?
It is so exciting to have as part of our sacred Scripture, stories that are timeless and hold for us lessons just as they did for the people first hearing them at the feet of Jesus. Everyone loves good stories; this Sunday Jesus promises you some great ones.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.