Lately, I have been teaching a New Testament Scripture class to our Sisters in initial formation, Sister Stefanie and Novice Jackie. But everyone is invited to attend so there are about 15 other Sisters who fill the room. No matter how long we have read and prayed with the Bible, at Liturgy of the Hours and Eucharist, I think we all realize there is no end to what we can learn anew each time we encounter the Scriptures through the words, actions and call of Jesus! Our discussions make for an enjoyable evening two nights a month.
Last evening I completed a section on Parables. The stories are familiar to us: the mustard seed representing the kingdom of God, the lost sheep and coin searched for and found, the prodigal son (or perhaps more appropriately the “prodigal father” since he was the one who was lavishly generous), the workers in the vineyard who all received the same wage at the end of the day (the wage they had agreed to), the good Samaritan.
We’ve heard (practically memorized over the years) the content of the stories. So why look at them again?
Jesus used Parables to teach about the “kingdom” of God using familiar images – farming, laboring, begging for justice. Yet in each story something got turned upside down, or at least ended up backwards or askew from what might have been expected. (Come on – can we really imagine a woman searching all day for one coin and then after finding it, spending probably twice as much if not more, on a party with her friends to celebrate? And how realistic is it to expect that everyone working in an establishment – a vineyard then, Microsoft or Penney’s today – would really all get the same pay? How can we truly wrap our minds around those concepts?)
Jesus wanted us to think in new ways. We easily understand the concept of our search for God, as in the lost sheep and coin parables. But Jesus turned it into God’s constant search for us. Really – God would do that for me! These were not stories to make one comfortable, but more like stories to rattle one’s cage, to set one thinking – what just happened here?
For one thing, we learn that the kingdom is not about justice as we believe it to be. God’s justice begins first with MERCY. God’s mercy is beyond anything we can imagine, precisely because God is God and we are not. God’s mercy has no bounds.
Read the Parables again. You’ll see what I mean! None of us deserve the kingdom – It has been freely given. We live with the gates already open – Jesus did that once, for all of us. All we have to do is desire to receive the gift. To open our arms and say “Thank you God.” God’s love for us is total, merciful. God holds nothing back. We need only respond in the same way. Can we?