January 31, 2020

Christ the Cornerstone

Let Jesus’ parables take root in our hearts

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade” (Mk 4:30-32).

Jesus taught using parables. Rather than relying on abstract concepts, Our Lord told stories to paint verbal pictures that would illustrate his meaning.

As St. Mark explains, “With many such parables, he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private” (cf. Mk 4:33–34).

Most of Jesus’ parables are familiar to us today. After being repeated year in and year out for 2,000 years, they remain vivid in our imaginations. The parables of the Good Samaritan (Lk 25:10-37) and the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32) are excellent examples. Who could forget these vivid illustrations of God’s love and mercy? Who could fail to understand what our Lord is telling us about the way we should live if we want to be happy—in this life and in the world to come?

And yet, we too often forget the lessons Jesus taught. Sometimes the parables are so familiar that their impact is no longer as powerful as it should be. Other times, we let the distractions of our busy lives prevent us from recognizing how Jesus’ parables apply to us. Still other times, we let our selfishness and sin get in the way, and we refuse to accept the plain truths that we are confronted with in the Gospel.

We know that the parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, illustrates how we should care for one another—including those who are strangers, even enemies. But how often do we act like the other characters in the story, the priest and the Levite, who refuse to help one of their own kind? Presumably these were “good people” whose indifference prevented them from being truly good.

Similarly, while we can identify with the younger son in the parable of the Prodigal Son, how often do we find ourselves acting more like his older brother—resentful of God’s mercy toward others? Instead of being grateful for what we have, we too often focus on what we don’t have. This causes us to be jealous and angry. As a result, we lose sight of the blessings in our lives and we complain where, in truth, we should be giving thanks.

The fact that we can readily see the truth of these moral principles shows the power of these parables. Jesus shows us vividly what he wants us to understand. He brings home his message using images and examples that we can readily understand and appreciate even if we don’t always live the way we should.

Our Lord understands that we are slow to grasp his meaning—and even slower to put his teaching into practice in our daily lives. That’s one reason that he gives us the parable of the mustard seed, “the smallest of all the seeds on the earth” (Mk 4:31). The kingdom of God, which is where God’s will is fully realized and all creation exists in perfect harmony with God, grows slowly from the smallest of seeds.

In each of us and in all things visible and invisible, the grace of God has been planted and is developing gradually in spite of all obstacles. No amount of bad soil, inclement weather or the infestation of weeds can prevent the mustard seeds planted by our God from becoming ”the largest of plants” with “large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade” (Mk 4:32).

Jesus taught with parables, but he also took the time to explain their meaning to his disciples. Our Church takes this responsibility—to explain the meaning of Christ’s teaching—seriously. That’s why we dedicate so much of our precious time and resources to the ministries of evangelization and faith formation. We want Jesus’ parables to ring true today and in every age because we believe that they show us how to live fully and joyfully in freedom.

Let’s pray for the grace to let the words and example of Jesus take root in our hearts so that, like the mustard seed, we may grow into “the largest of plants” where, like the benevolent Samaritan and the Prodigal Son’s merciful father, we can show God’s love and mercy to all our sisters and brothers everywhere. †

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