Sunday, July 10, 2011

Does Jesus Speak in Parables Because He Doesn't Want Us to Understand?

Today's Gospel reading from Mt. 13 is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament books. When asked by his disciples why he speaks in parables, Jesus replies:

"This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them. "

On reading this Gospel passage, many people throw up their arms in disgust and say, "So this is your so-called 'Good News'. This is the sacred book that you Christians venerate. I am no Bible scholar and I know nothing about Theology. All I have is common sense, which tells me I cannot accept a God who chooses to speak in parables because he doesn't want them to understand him lest he heals them!"

Yes, we are no Bible scholars. This is why we need them to help us so that when we encounter difficult biblical passages, we won't throw away the whole book or even abandon our Christian faith altogether, which is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. For us Catholics, God has given us one of the most respected and distinguished Bible scholars in the world to guide us. Coupled with the treasures of the Holy Tradition and the authority of the cathedra of St. Peter, he is in fact as good a Bible scholar as we can get. He is none other than our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI (BXVI).

In addressing the fore-mentioned Gospel passage, BXVI points out in "Jesus of Nazareth - From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration" (see pp.188-191, 2-4, 236) that one very important promise made by God in the early going of the lengthy history of salvation is that He will send a prophet like Moses from among Israel (cf. Deut 18:15). Since then "there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face" (Deut 34:10). In other words, up until Jesus' time, history is hung in suspense; it is essentially a waiting game - waiting for the promised Prophet. Who is He? Will He come?

When Jesus enters into human history, he asserts in no unclear terms that he is the Prophet promised by God. He uses the parable of the sower to indicate that he is the sower who plants the seed of the Kingdom of God and brings salvation. More importantly, he is the seed itself. How? Like the prophets before him who had to suffer and often were forced to give up their lives, he, the ultimate Prophet, will also suffer and die, for "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (John 12:24). Jesus' death will bring salvation to all men.

His assertion also takes the form of a "New Moses": Moses was the only prophet in human history who "knew God face to face" (Deut 34:10). Now the promised Prophet, the New Moses, is truly here. He knows God so well that he is actually His Word; and is so close to Him that he and the Father are actually one. Therefore he quotes the great prophet Isaiah to suggest that he is the Prophet of all prophets.

And what did Isaiah say that warranted Jesus' quotation? The Isaiah quote is essentially a prediction that Israel will remain deaf and blind in spite of all the prophets that God has sent. They will not be "converted" and "healed" by God in as far as their hardness of heart will not allow them to be converted and healed. So, eventually what will happen when this hardness of heart persists? They will crucify the promised Prophet. Result? Salvation of all men! Indeed "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (John 12:24). No wonder Jesus sees himself as the seed in the sower parable. Everything predicted by Isaiah has come true in Jesus. By quoting him, Jesus is only stating the obvious, and in doing so he makes it clear that he is truly the promised Prophet.

Hopefully you would understand and like this explanation, and the Bible that you were about to throw into Lake Ontario would remain safe on your desk for another day - until the next difficult passage comes along that is!

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