Challenging and Inspiring Parables of Our Lord

Holy Scripture abounds in analogy. There are similes and metaphors and that particular form of Hebrew poetry called parallelism. The Hebrews didn’t rhyme words in their poems, but they coupled ideas. An analogy is a comparison of two or more different things which share one or more similarities. All of our predications about God must be and can only be analogical. Between the creature and the Creator there exists an infinite disproportion; nevertheless, to identify the attributes of God we rely on our human reasoning about divine things. For example: we affirm that God is Omnipotent. Do we comprehend this Omnipotence? No. What we are affirming is that there is no limit to divine power. “With God,” the angel Gabriel told Our Lady, “all things are possible.” When we say that God is Infinite we affirm that He is not limited or finite. When we say that God is Omniscient we affirm that there can be nothing that God does not know. And so on. The concept being, most importantly, can only be used analogically when we speak of God and creation. When we proclaim the essence of God, which is His self-existence, we are affirming that He is the necessary Eternal Being and that we know that by the fact that we are contingent and unnecessary. So, all of our affirmations about God are by way of analogy; we compare what we know about ourselves with what is knowable by us about Him. This is true affirmation of what is similar between things as opposed to equivocal affirmation which is using a word in two totally different senses. If I say that God is the Creator of all things and I say that an artist “creates” a masterpiece I am really using the term equivocally, as only God can bring something into existence out of nothing. And creation is to make something out of nothing.

Note: Brother André wrote an article for our website on the three modes of predication: univocal, equivocal, and analogical. That piece will help elucidate what I just wrote. You can read it here.

Brother Francis taught us that a parable is an extended simile and that an allegory is an extended metaphor. Once you hear that you cannot forget it.

In this brief column I will highlight Our Lord’s use of the parable. One knows that he is dealing with a parable when one reads that such or such is “like” unto something else. Solomon used parables in the Book of Proverbs, but no one used them to teach the highest truths as majestically as did Our Lord, Christ the King.

The exact words “like unto” do not have to be used to qualify a word of wisdom as a parable so long as the similitude is there by way of a comparative lesson. We do not need for Jesus to say that the word of God is “like” a sower who went out to sow seed, so long as the comparison is there. More often, however, Our Lord uses the exact words “the kingdom of heaven is like, etc.”

Let’s go to Matthew’s Gospel which has more parables than any other. “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 13:35).

“And he spoke to them many things in parables, saying: Behold the sower went forth to sow . . .” (Matthew 13:3). What is unique to this parable? Jesus Himself gives us its interpretation. It is the longest of His parables, taking up twenty-three verses.

This is immediately followed by other parables.

“The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seeds in his field” (Matthew vss 24 seq.). The lesson from this parable is that the Church (the kingdom of heaven) will have good and bad members. The wheat and the cockle. The good will be exercised by the bad example and persecution of bad members, but at harvest time their virtue of the former will be more manifest than had they not been tempted at all. God can bring good out of evil.

I said that no one used the parable as “majestically” as did Christ the King. The passage above and those that follow from Matthew’s Gospel all have the lede “The kingdom of heaven is like.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed” (vs. 31).

“The kingdom of heaven is like to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened” (vs. 33).

There is more.

From the boat Jesus moves into a house, where He explained to His disciples the meaning of the parable of the wheat and the cockle.

Then He opened His mouth again and said: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in a field. Which a man having found, hid it, and for joy thereof goeth, and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (vs. 44).

Again, “the kingdom of heaven is like to a merchant seeking good pearls. Who when he had found one pearl of great price, went his way, and sold all that he had, and bought it (vss, 45-46).

And another:

“Again the kingdom of heaven is like to a net cast into the sea, and gathering together of all kind of fishes. Which, when it was filled, they drew out, and sitting by the shore, they chose out the good into vessels, but the bad they cast forth. So shall it be at the end of the world. The angels shall go out, and shall separate the wicked from among the just. And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (vss, 47-50).

Looking upon the twelve Jesus asked them if they understood these things. And they replied “Yes.” To which He compared them to a good scribe “instructed in the kingdom of heaven [who] is like to a man that is a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure new things and old” (vs. 52).

Some chapters later on Matthew adds a couple more parables:

After giving His disciples a lesson on humility emphasizing that “the first shall be last and the last first” (Mark 10:31) Jesus spoke this challenging parable as given in Matthew: “The kingdom of heaven is like to an householder, who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard” (20:1). You know the rest. Those who were hired at the eleventh hour received the same pay as those who were hired in the morning. Then He repeated what He had said earlier to them regarding humility: “So shall the last be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen” (Matthew 20:16).

Were they instructed well enough to understand this parable? It certainly went against the grain. Maybe even rattled a few feathers. But the apostles took it. They were instructed now like good scribes “in the kingdom of heaven.”

And, lest anyone be presumptuous He related this final parable (final, that is, in Matthew) of the ten virgins: “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be like to ten virgins, who taking their lamps went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride” (25:1). The lesson here is that never should anyone be overconfident, thinking that he is better than the publican striking his breast for mercy.

“So you also, when you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do” (Luke 10:17).

Saint Luke relates other well-known parables, such as the lost sheep, the woman who lost her didrachma, the unjust steward, and the prodigal son. Luke also throws in the story of Lazarus and the rich man right after these parables but that is an actual event and not a parable.

And those who heard Him were in awe. But some were “scandalized” — that is to say, not here by the Sea of Galilee — but in His own country (Nazareth), where He afterwards retired, teaching in their synagogues: “How came this man by this wisdom and miracles?” they said, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary?” (vs. 54-55). “And they were scandalized in his regard” (vs 57).

Note: Brother André wrote an article for our website on the three modes of predication: univocal, equivocal, and analogical. That piece will help elucidate what I just wrote. You can read it here.