For a number of years now I have been reflecting upon a common experience shared by many catechists in relation to teaching the parables. It is a remarkable fact that, when we hear a great many of the parables being proclaimed or read them for ourselves, we experience some form of negative reaction to them. Similarly, when preaching or teaching on the parables, we find that our listeners are also having the same reaction.
Think for a moment of the typical reactions to the parable of the man without the wedding garment, or that of the labourers who were paid the same for one hour’s work as those who had borne the heat of the day. Then there is the Prodigal Son—our sympathy is with the elder brother.
When it comes to negative reactions, perhaps the classic parable is that of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. I frequently ask the question—how many of us really love the wise virgins? I find that there are few, if any, who admit even to sympathising with them, let alone sharing in their wisdom and seeking to emulate them. The truth is that we consider them to be notably un-Christian! After all, they wouldn’t share the oil in their lamps. And isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? I suspect that we are, in fact, quite angry towards those five Wise ones. Our sympathy is entirely with the foolish. They certainly had a raw deal—being sent off to find oil for themselves. And to make matters worse, on their return after, presumably, successfully purchasing the oil, they find themselves excluded, because the bridegroom had arrived and the doors firmly closed. Then, to add insult to injury, the bridegroom declares, ‘I tell you solemnly, I do not know you’.
A number of the parables do not evoke this kind of negative reaction. However, there is a different kind of problem: because we see only the moral message of the parable and not the Gospel message, there is not much reaction at all—not, at least, the burning in our hearts as the parable is explained!
Part of the goal of this series on the parables has been to reveal the—sometimes rather hidden, Gospel message.