FROM THE BIBLE: Jesus and the Parables

Por: diácono Orlando Fernández Guerra

In their usual commentaries to the Torá, Jesus’ contemporary Judaism teachers used the parable as a pedagogical method of moral and spiritual teaching. Many are preserved in the rabbinical writings in which they use the images of the vineyard, of the shepherd and sheep, of the hidden treasure, of the invitation to the banquet, which we saw in the previous article. This was a way to illuminate dark passages from the Bible in light of the vital situations of listeners. God was the hidden protagonist in every account that, as Father, Judge, or King, offered a loving and just solution to the problem posed.
Thus the parable became the hinge that connected and articulated the transcendent with the immanent and the spiritual world with earthly reality; God with man. And he did it with concrete, suggestive and challenging images. For that subtle Hebrew taste for paradox, enigma or tale there was no better solution to wake the listener’s attention. That’s why many start with a question: “What do you think…?” (Mt 18.12); “To what will I compare it…?” (Lk 13.20).
Sometimes the parable was born as a comparison taken from nature or everyday life that might be related to a proverb. Jesus pronounces some of his own culture that surely all would know: “Wherever the corpse is, the vultures shall gather there” (Mt 24:28); “If a blind man guides another blind man, they will both fall into the hole” (Mt 15:14); “A lamp is not lit to be placed under the celemin” (Mt 5.15). Later the development of any of these graphic comparisons could lead to a parable, sometimes very short, such as those of the hidden treasure (Mt 13.44) or the lost sheep (Lk 15.4-6), other times longer, in the manner of a tale, such as that of the sower (Mt 13.3-9) or that of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32).
But however beautiful they may be, the parables are not exhausted in their poetic evocation, they are always an invitation to make a serious and concrete decision for the future, because they teach us to contemplate with the eyes of faith everyday life. Thus, however insignificant, we discover an invisible reality that bids to surface our consciousness. The parables make a comparison between a fact known to listeners and an invisible fact that invades everyday life by transfiguring it. The proximity of the Kingdom of God invites us to reflect deeply on our personal and social behavior.
Parables bring density, depth, and dilation to our contracted personal universe, because they help us connect with everyone and the Whole critically. In this way, it awakens our capacity for discernment and personal conversion in order to compare the new reality of the Kingdom with our fantasies of the future, so often flawed by frustrated commitments and projects. In this way, the parables give body and consistency to the messinic hope. That is why Jesus says: “The Kingdom of God is like…” (Lk 13.19); “My Kingdom is not of this world…” (Jn 18.36); “but it is already among you” (Lk 17:21).
Jesus offers no theological definition of the Kingdom of God; his parables merely suggest it to seduce us with his presence. So when the Pharisees ask him, “When does the Kingdom of God come?” (Lk 17:20), your answer is disconcerting: “The Kingdom of God does not come visibly, and it cannot be said, ‘He is here’ or ‘He is there’, for the Kingdom of God is among you” (Lk 17:20-21). The Kingdom of God is the great center of gravity of Jesus’ public ministry. Everything he did through talks, sayings, healings, resurrections, and parables has to do with this.
The acceptance or rejection, the presentness or coming of that Kingdom of God, are the center of all its parables. It does not matter if it speaks to us of mercy, forgiveness, salvation, prayer, discipleship, or any other dimension of Christian life. All unfailingly refer to the Kingdom that has mysteriously been made known to us, albeit as an enigma (Mk 4:11).
His great theological richness is not in what he literally says, but in what remains beyond our comprehension, in what he suggests to us, in that ability to continually open himself to new perspectives that we will never finish discovering and meditating on. Therefore, readers of all times feel challenged by them as they ponder them, because they have inexhaustible applications for our personal, family, community and social lives. Today, after centuries of pronouncements, the parables of Jesus remain a literary monument within the New Testament. Ω

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