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A Beacon Of Light . . . Parables And The Message Of Salvation

May 23, 2023 Frontpage No Comments


Have you ever thought of how the birth of Christ has changed the world? With the Incarnation, or birth of Christ, God becomes man and lives among us. The sole purpose of living among us was to prepare us to participate in the gift of our own redemption. During His time on Earth, Jesus embarked on a public ministry that forever changed the world. At the heart of this message of salvation was the need to love God first, thus allowing that divine love to trickle into our love for others. Loving God first is the only way we can then love our neighbor. Through Jesus’ example and teaching, humanity underwent a spiritual transformation that positioned every human being on the path that leads to Heaven.
Even though the public ministry of Jesus lasted only three years, those years were filled with an abundance of wealth and knowledge that would lead us into eternity. It started at Cana in Galilee where there was a wedding feast. During this feast Jesus demonstrates for the first time His divinity by changing the water into the best of wine. As the first miracle unfolds, the Mother of Jesus, tells the servants, as she tells us all, to do whatever Jesus tells them to. This message of Mary calls us to listen very carefully to the words of her son, because His words are filled with lifesaving advice.
Like every time and place, there were also challenges during Jesus’ time that had to be overcome. Among these challenges was the inability of the people to think beyond the meaning of the law. The lack of education among the simple-minded people of Jesus’ time made it difficult to teach the people. Overcoming this obstacle, and teaching in a way that would bring the people to a new understanding, Jesus used stories or parables as the way to reach them.
Using parables allowed Jesus to craft the message of salvation in a way that was easy to understand. Because salvation is such a mystery, it was necessary to make connections between the divine and supernatural, with the ordinary and mundane. The parables also challenged the conventual wisdom of the time, by demonstrating servant leadership, calling on the followers to live a radical love in building up the Kingdom of God.
Throughout Sacred Scripture, God spoke in various ways. In the beginning God speaks, and creation happens. In the times of Abraham, Noah, and Moses, God speaks, and covenants are created. Through the prophets, God proclaims the way to conversion. Through the Angel Gabriel, God proclaims the news of our salvation in the birth of Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary. With Jesus’ birth, the “Word Became Flesh” and dwelt among us, preparing the way for the voice of God to be truly heard in our times.
The parables make up a large part of the words Jesus spoke in the Gospels. Some of the most memorable preaching of Jesus regarding the Kingdom of God happened through the use of parables. Parables like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son have transcended religious boundaries and have become stories of life’s lessons all faiths recognize. For us as Catholics, however, parables are not merely stories of the Bible we learned as children they are for us dynamic lessons that continue to influence our lives even today in this everchanging world.
If you were to look up the definition of a parable in the dictionary, you would find its definition to be “a short allegorical story designed to teach a truth, principle of religious belief, or a moral lesson.” For Jesus, this is precisely what He did. Jesus’ teachings were Truth, they included religious principles, and they always taught a moral lesson. And yet, Jesus uses parables to teach the important elements of everyday life.
So, how many parables did Jesus teach during His time on Earth? In total there are forty-two recorded parables Jesus used to teach the people about the Kingdom of God and other aspects of religious life. There are some biblical scholars, however, who break them down into as many as fifty. For our purposes we will stick to the number forty-two. Where do we find these forty-two parables? These are contained within the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus offers twenty-two parables. In Matthew’s Gospel we find the parables of the lamp, the speck and the log, the new cloth on an old garment, the divided kingdom, the sower, the weeds among the wheat, the mustard seed, the leaven, the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, the net, the heart of man, the lost sheep, the unforgiving servant, laborers in the vineyard, the two sons, the tenant farmers, the marriage feast, the budding fig tree, the faithful versus the wicked servant, and the ten talents.
In the Gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke, they each present us with ten parables. In the Gospel of St. Mark, we hear about the parable of the lamp, new cloth on an old garment, the divided kingdom, parable of the sower, parable of the growing seed, parable of the mustard seed, parable of the heart of man, the tenant farmers, the budding fig tree, and the faithful versus the wicked servant. In the Gospel of St. Luke we are introduced to the parables about the Good Samaritan, the friend at midnight, the rich fool, the barren fig tree, the invited guests, the lost coin, the prodigal son, the rich man and Lazarus, the persistent widow, and the Pharisee and the tax collector. Even though it may seem like there are duplicates in these lists, each of the Evangelists present them in the way they experienced the parables.
Why did Jesus need to use parables? In Jesus’ ministry it was likely that He would have encountered so many different people. These encounters would have included the disciples, the Pharisees, and large groups of people who may have been listening to Him for the very first time. Jesus had to engage this wide group of different people, the educated and ordinary, so He used the parables to engage them all, whomever he was speaking to. Through the parables Jesus revealed to them all the mystery of the Kingdom of God, while challenging their ordinary, and often ancient held view, forcing them to think beyond earthly things.
The ordinary things referenced to in the parables like plants, vines, seeds, and sowers, were simple aspects of life that the people understood. He also spoke about what we would now call family dynamics, dinner parties and weddings, again because these were events that resonated with the ordinary lives of the people. In all, the parables touched on life themes including: love, forgiveness, God’s Kingdom, prayer, our redemption, and the end times.
What is interesting in all of the parables, was that Jesus intentionally leaves out key details and people’s names. Why? Well, possibly to allow us to place ourselves in the situations He is talking about. This allows us to consider, prayerfully, the moral of the parable as it pertains to our own lives and circumstances. The parables of Jesus are as important now, just as they were then. If we take the parables seriously, not as fables, but as opportunities of conversion, then they have the potential to teach us something about ourselves. Parables never celebrate the status quo because they always celebrate the individual dignity of the person.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to delve into the public ministry of Jesus and see what we can learn from the parables. At first they may seem like stories that are out of touch with today’s reality. Some people might think that, but if we look beneath the surface, they are filled with teaching that transcend time and place. The parables Jesus taught are lifelong lessons that will lead us to eternity.

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