Sunday the Sixteenth

Antiphon: “God Himself is my help. The Lord upholds my life. I will offer You a willing sacrifice; I will praise Your name, O Lord, for its goodness (Psalm 53:6, 8).”

Gospel excerpt: “Jesus proposed another parable (παραβολὴν, parabolen) to the crowds, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field... (Matthew 13:24)””

Last week, the sower went forth and that work yielded a variety of results. This Sunday, an enemy sowed weeds all through the wheat and the results were expected. Additionally we hear about mustard seed and yeast. Next Sunday, we go on on excursions to dig for treasure and cast nets on the Sea of Galilee. Common among all these and other similar texts is that they are parables. Next to the healing narratives, Jesus' parables are among the best known Gospel texts. Even people not familiar with the Gospels have heard of the Good Samaritan.

As popular as parables are, describing them is a bit more challenging. Many define a parable as 'just a story to teach a lesson or impart a moral teaching.' Not a bad description, except for the 'just a story' part. No matter how technical a description may get, it is vital to know that in the end, how the parable forms our living is crucial. On the other hand, 'just a story' is a phrase that is helpful to omit when approaching the sacred text. Current Western culture translates 'just a story' into a tale that is fabricated or made-up. Some go so far as to say that if the 'stories' in Scripture are 'made up,' I can 'make up' my own stories. Worse still, 'just a story' - in suggesting 'made up' - challenges the very credibility and foundation of Sacred Scripture for Christian living. (See last week's entry on the literal and spiritual senses of Sacred Scripture.)

Those who have studied the parables may be familiar with scholars such as Dodd, Jeremias and Beech to name only a few very quickly. In the world of Dodd, parables have been described more or less as 'similes or metaphors drawn from day-to-day living that arrest the listener by their vividness or strangeness thus teasing the mind and heart into active reflection concerning parable's insight to living the Kingdom of God.' While not a direct quote from Dodd (over the years I have made some humble additions), the elements of metaphor, strangeness and teasing that Dodd cites are operative in all the parables, albeit in varying degrees. Dodd and company have opened the horizons of our minds and hearts to experience a richness when it comes to living the Kingdom of God.

A number of years ago, I was intrigued by a number of "bolein" verbs in Scripture and theology. "Bolein" is the Greek verb that means to throw. It forms the basis for a number of important words in theology such as symbol, diabolic and yes, parable. Depending on the nouns referenced, the Greek prefix para can mean "with" or "besides." "Para" coupled with the Greek verb "bolein" yields an awkward literal English rendering "throw with" or "throw besides." So how does this shed light on Gospel parables? Professor C Clifton Black authored an article a number of years back in the biblical journal, Interpretation. Professor Black notes another literal meaning of parable from the Greek, "thrown alongside." He goes on to present that this "thrown alongside" that characterizes Jesus' parables is a collision between the world and the Kingdom Word pronounced by Jesus. It is not a collision in the sense of an 'us-against-them,' but a world that is still 'being created' daily to mirror the beauty and glory of the Creator. "When everyday reality is pierced by divine revelation," says Black, "a parabole has happened; a parable has been uttered." A parable, while technically a noun, is essentially an action: the action of the Creator's ongoing work of creation. Professor Black contends that the parable "is nothing less than a life-giving encounter between human hunger and Godly nurturance."

Alternative Opening Prayer:
let the Gift of Your life
continue to grow in us,
drawing us from death to faith, hope and love.
Keep us alive in Christ Jesus.
Keep us watchful in prayer
and true to His teaching
till Your glory is revealed in us.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.