Question: Sheela Jose
I read a statement “Jesus is the parable of God,” I could not under- stand it. What does it mean?
Answer: Jacob Parappally MSFS
Jesus taught everything in parables. Evangelist Matthew tells us very clearly, “All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables, indeed He said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world’.” Like any other oriental teacher Jesus used parables to communicate the ultimate meaning of human
life and its destiny as well as to communicate how humans must live a life worthy of their human vocation as intended by God. The early Church which narrated the parables of Jesus in the gospels also recognized that the one who told these parables was Himself a parable of God! This is a unique happening in the religious history of human- kind that the parable-teller is encountered as the parable or the story-teller is experienced more than all the stories He told. Jesus, the teller of the parables is encountered as the meaning of one’s life or as the beginning and end of one’s life! The Incomprehensible becomes the comprehensible, the Invisible becomes the visible, the Absolute Mystery of life becomes a life-transforming and meaningful story. Indeed, Jesus is thus a parable of God!
All parables of Jesus pointed to the Kingdom of God He preached directly or indirectly. The reign of God or Kingdom of God is the conscious living of self-emptying love, justice, equality, communion, recon- ciliation and peace with the recognition of God as the source and Lord of these values. The God who became human, Jesus Christ, lived and proclaimed these values and gave up His life on the Cross rather than giving up the values of the Kingdom which He believed in and pro- claimed with prophetic courage and conviction. It may be a surprise for us that the apostles did not preach about the reign of God in the beginning of their proclamation of the good news of liberation and salvation. They proclaimed Jesus as the liberator and saviour. What happened to the Kingdom of God which Jesus preached throughout His public ministry? The Kingdom of God or the reign of God was identified with the Person of Jesus. His presence is the presence of the reign of God. In Him all the values of the Kingdom are embodied. The same can be said about the parables He told during His public life. The parables were about how to live a meaningful human life in relation to God, others and nature. After His life, death and resurrection Jesus was experienced as the real parable of God revealing in His own person what humans are and what they can become according to God’s design for humans!
Parables challenge and call for a response
In His time Jesus was known as a Rabbi or teacher. He was also called a prophet and Messiah. But none of these titles suited Him. He would, perhaps, reluctantly accept them not because of His inner insecurity but because He knew for certain that His consciousness of His mission cannot be expressed
through any of these titles. He could be considered a Rabbi but He was not like other Rabbis before Him or after Him. Like a Rabbi He taught but He was a different type of Rabbi. The Rabbis of Jewish tradition were sought after by the prospective disciples. Jesus went out and called the disciples to Him. Traditional Rabbis held official teaching at specified places but Jesus did not choose a particular place to teach. He taught not only in synagogues but also in Simon’s house. He would teach from the top of the mountain and also from the plain. He would teach while walking through corn fields or walking through the city streets. He would teach the people on the seashore by sitting in the boat of Simon Peter or on the way to Jerusalem.
Jesus’ hearers included all types of people from all strata of His society. There were farmers and shermen, scholarly teachers of the Law and ignorant law-breakers, so called wise people and learned Pharisees and Sadducees as well as so called sinners, namely, the poor, the sick, the tax collectors and prostitutes. He had something to tell them all, to each one according to his or her need. So they all listened to His story. His story was different. Different from all the stories they had ever heard before. He told stories not to entertain them but confront them. He told stories not to exhibit His talent as a story-teller but to bring out the treasures lying hidden in the listener. His stories led the listener to the mystery of God, to the mystery of humans and to the mystery of the world. They were confronted by the reality of being involved in the mystery.
They were slowly led to see with their inner eyes the depth of the mystery of life in history, indeed, in Jesus, the story or the parable. God who began the story, Jesus the story-teller and the people, the listeners of the story- all belonged to the plot of the story. The story was narrated in the eld of the Kingdom, on the stage of the World so that the lilies of the eld, the mustard seeds and vineyards, the fields and barns, the birds of the air and the foxes in their holes, the serpents and the scorpions, the lambs and the goats could find a place in His story.
The characters of Jesus’ stories were not mythical characters with superhuman strength or knowledge. They were taken from the everyday life of the society of His time. They were all characters whom the listeners could recognize and identify as their next door neighbours or people whom they encountered everyday in their villages or towns. A publican or a Pharisee, the owner of a vineyard or the owner of a pair of oxen, the guests at a wedding party, a farmer who comes from the field
tired or a farmer who sows the seeds, servants who are faithful or unfaithful, industrious or slothful, compassionate or oppressive, an unjust judge or a rich man who provides even for dogs but does not care for a poor man at his doorstep, a woman who searches for her lost coin or a woman who leavens the dough, a persevering widow or a group of careless virgins, a father who doesn’t want to disturb his sleeping children or a father who waits for the awakening and the returning of
his lost son are all characters with flesh and blood. Thus the hearers would get immediately connected to the context of the story. They find themselves as part of His story. They are challenged to join the celebration of the forgiveness experienced by the lost son or be lost and dead like the elder son who could not participate in this celebration of reconciliation. The so called sinners like outcasts, the poor and the sick experience communion with Jesus but those who refuse fail to experience the joy of being with Him. The parables of Jesus challenges us to confront our own selves and discover what prevents us from realizing ourselves as dimensions of Him, the true parable of God. Such a discovery is dangerous. It will threaten our position in the power structures of the society and the Church which give us false identities. Therefore, our tendency is to pretend that we have not heard the parables or seen the parabler.
Jesus, the Parable of God
Jesus’ parables are different from all other stories which teach some moral values because He is the parable of God. According to James Breech (Jesus and Post- modernism) the stories of Jesus are different from the stories of Rabbinic and Greco-Roman world. After his research on the stories told and re-told for three hundred years before Jesus and three hundred years after Jesus he comes to the conclusion that the stories or parables of Jesus are unique and unparalleled like Jesus Himself. Jesus’ parables are open-ended. They have no closure. For example, the parable of the good Samaritan has no ending. We do not know whether the good Samaritan came back to the inn where the wounded man was kept for nursing. He said he would come back and also would settle the bill. But we do not know what happened at the end. Wherever there is a closure in the parables of Jesus it is shown by the exegetes that it was a later addition. Like His parables, Jesus the parable of God also had no closure. He could not be closed up in the tomb. He remains always open ended.
Like His parables Jesus, the parable of God, evokes in His listeners a response. Either they have to accept Him or reject Him. For John the evangelist, Jesus’ coming into the world creates a crisis for the world. The crisis consists in the fact that the people have to make a decision either to follow Him and live His values or reject Him and follow their own selfish interests. The choice has to be made by humans using their God-given freedom. After stating that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” John says, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:16;19). God’s decision to become a human by assuming the entire human nature was to reveal to humans how they should live as authentic human beings. His life of intimate union with His Father whom He called Abba and His relationship with other humans with self-emptying love, liberating justice, authentic fellowship, empowering equal- ity and genuine reconciliation and His right relationship with nature reveal how He was a par- able of God. Like His parables which upset human calculations and strategies to manipulate religion, systems and structures of the society etc., in order to dominate and control other hu- mans and nature, Jesus as the parable of God turned the world upside-down with His life and prophetic challenges. Therefore, a true disciple of Jesus has no other choice than to be a parable like Jesus promoting life and the values of the Kingdom.
Live Jesus the Parable: the Christian imperative
An easy way to escape the challenge of Jesus the parable of God calling us to live a life worthy of our human vocation is to spiritualize the meaning of Jesus’ parables as an outsider and substitute the radical following of Jesus with a worship of Jesus. The Christian vocation is to realize that each disciple is a participant in the parables of Jesus and to recognize that each
one is a part of the reality of Jesus, the parable of God. The worship of Jesus needs to be the culmination one’s commitment to follow Him and be a parable of Jesus by prophetically announcing the good news of liberation and courageously denouncing every anti-kingdom value. A refusal to encounter Jesus as the parable of God would end up in creating gods, religious systems and structures, political ideologies, social practices and cultural traditions that support oppression, injustice, inequality, discrimination that reduce humans who are parts of the parables of Jesus and Jesus the parable to objects to be abused and misused for the selfish interests of a few.
It is the foundational Christian faith that Jesus is the Self- communication of God. We know God only through Jesus the parable of God. Everything necessary for our liberation and wholeness can be experienced by one who commits herself or himself to the Person of Jesus and His values inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Believing in Jesus as the parable of God is to experience Him closely, remain open-ended to the truth about God, oneself and others, include everyone and everything within oneself and challenge everything that does not reveal the goodness, love and justice of God! To be a parable of Jesus as He was the parable of God is the vocation of every human being, especially, every disciple of Christ!