What is A Parable?
We hear the word "parable" frequently, especially in the gospel stories used for our Masses of obligation on the weekends. It may be one of those scripture words we hear so often that we might say to ourselves, "Oh, yeah, another parable story." However, if asked what the meaning of the word is, most would reply simply "One of the stories Jesus told one group or another." This answer might be graded poorly. Why? It misses the purpose of the story. A parable is a comparison story.
Remember a previous reference to asking young people to define words that do not fully or exactly comprehend because of a lack of vocabulary. But they know it is "like" this or that. We adults are really not so different. So, Jesus, in teaching about the kingdom, turns to the favorite word of youth: "like." Jesus says in 6 specific teaching moments that the kingdom is "like" something our hearts and minds can grasp. We know we just do not have the spiritual capabilities to comprehend the totality of God's kingdom. Jesus recognizes that inability. He teaches that the kingdom is "like" something from individual's personal experience. Cardinal Wuerl cites 6 instances where Jesus says what the kingdom is like. The kingdom is like (a) a valuable pearl (Mt 13:45-46); (b) a field where treasure has been buried (Mt 13:44); (c) a seed growing in the ground (Luke 8:5-15); (d) yeast that causes dough to rise; (e) field of grain infiltrated by weeds (Mt 13:24-30); and (e) a fishing net that produces a successful catch but at the same time junk (Mt 13:47)
The noteworthy reality about the kingdom as Jesus taught it is that it "works powerfully, but quietly, gradually and invisibly, like seed and like yeast" (p23). Likewise the kingdom is not an exclusive country club. There are weeds and junk. God does not want anyone to have missed the opportunity to make his/her way into the kingdom. What a comfort this can be to those who struggle with various weaknesses that separate a true follower from Jesus. Lastly, however, from these comparisons we have the opportunity to learn what obligations we carry, living in the kingdom. If we nurture prayer and reach out to others in need, we become the recipients of abundance -- God's abundant graces will strengthen us.