Parable (2)

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Chapter 13 of the gospel of St. Matthew is called the “book of the parables” because of the way Jesus preaches and the reason for doing so. In Chapter 11 Jesus started receiving opposition to his message, especially from the Jews. In the later part of Chapter 12, they even asked Jesus for signs. So he resorted to parables which, according to him, will be understood only by those who are willing to listen and believe in him, (cf 13:10-17).

The ‘parabolē’ ( παραβολῆ ) has the same character as ‘māshāl’, ( מָ֭שָׁל ) of the Wisdom books in the OT. This literary form compares or likens one thing with another but intends to refer to something more or even something other than was described. It obliquely presents an intangible truth, clothed in the language of daily life, (cf s1S#35 Parable[1] 3/06/21).

The Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:1-23) is the first of Jesus’ seven illustrative stories in the chapter drawing on Palestinian life and culture. The farmer scattered the seed before plowing, with the result that a fair amount was lost even though there was a sufficient yield where the soil was fertile. The point is that, grasped by the ears of faith (v9), the message Jesus delivers, despite its apparent ineffectiveness, will ultimately meet with great success. Just as the seed fell on the path (v4, 19), on rocky ground (v5, 20), or among thorns (v7, 22), so too with God’s word. Many people will not be receptive. But just as there is always rich soil (v8, 23), to receive despite the fall-out, so too the authentic hearers (who listen and understands, v 13), of Jesus’ message will be many and strong in faith.

As the word of God is sown into our hearts again today, do we hear and listen to it, understand and act on it even in the face of adversity, material concerns, and allurements? Do we embrace the truth and deepen our commitment to the message of Jesus by a life of prayer, ongoing formation and education in the faith, and living it in service of others? If we do, it will surely bear a hundredfold.


Parable (1)

In the Wisdom Books of the OT, ‘māshāl’, ( מָ֭שָׁל ) is the most comprehensive vocabulary that covers most of the various literary forms related to wise sayings or maxims. Its basic meaning is “likeness, comparison” which is found in many proverbs, including the parallel in reverse, i.e., comparison by contrast or dissimilarity, (e.g. Prv. 10:1ff, 25:1ff). The point is that the essential nature of something is brought out by comparing it with something else.

The ‘parabolē’ ( παραβολῆ ) has the same character. In the Gospels, Jesus uses them and were at the heart of his teaching ministry, e.g. the ‘Kingdom parables’, (cf. Mk 4:2ff, 13:28; Mt 13:3ff, 21:33, 45; Lk 8:4ff, 12:16,41, 20:9, 19; in John, the good shepherd, 10:1ff and the vine and the branches, 15:1-7, are considered more as allegories).

The estimated number of parables in the Gospels according to studies could go as low as 35 or as high as 72, depending on how they are classified: lower if it is strictly applied to short narratives, higher if it includes sayings that are simply metaphors or similes. Each Gospel may differ in presenting a parable either by expansion or omission of some details and explanations. This is so because the primitive Church in its adaptation (of what may be the original parables of Jesus), say for example, to the Gentile mission or exhortation and universal application, calls for it and yet does not distort or conceal the basic preaching of Jesus: that at his coming, the kingdom of God is inaugurated, offered his salvation for everyone and the necessity of an immediate personal positive response (otherwise, its corresponding judgment) and the living of it as his disciples.

Parables that were proclaimed then and which we continue to hear today, by their nature, engage the hearer, awaiting a response, because the Kingdom of God is an interaction between the divine and the human. The parable is the most appropriate form for such a process. Furthermore, they remain as teaching tools, imaginative ways of clarifying abstract truth. But since they communicate the truth obliquely, parables have an illusive side, a restricted presentation of the truth. We, therefore need to continue ‘listening’ to Jesus, for as was his won’t, he alone can give a fuller explanation (as he did to his disciples, cf. Mt 13:18-23; Mk 4:13-14). Amen.