The Purity and Power of Parables


Catholic writers, especially those of us who expound on the inner, spiritual life should carefully follow Christ’s example. Jesus used simple stories and parables to explain spiritual truths. It was the only way He could come close to explaining the inexplicable. Although He could discuss complex theological issues with deep insight into scripture from the age of twelve, He preferred to teach using parables and metaphors that even a child or uneducated man could understand.

Metaphors, or word pictures, are the language of God in the Old Testament, the language of Jesus in the Gospels and the Holy Spirit in the Epistles because images bypass the sceptical reasoning of our human minds and pierce our hearts.

The danger of complicated, wordy theological explanations is illustrated humourously in a short, religious joke. I rarely remember even the simplest joke but I have never forgotten this intellectual one told 30 years ago by a Jesuit priest in front of a University New Testament class.

Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee when he turned to Simon Peter and asked him,“Who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered Him, “Why you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus was pleased with his answer. So, Jesus turns to the modern-day theologian and asks,“Who do you say that I am?”

The modern-day theologian answers,“Why you are the eschatological manifestation in the ground of our being.The kerygma, which finds its fulfillment in interpersonal relationships.”

And Jesus says,“What?”

I still smile every time I repeat this joke but unfortunately it reveals man’s greatest stumbling block. The mind is often unable to comprehend spiritual mysteries. It is satan who uses sophistry to beguile the human mind like he did in the garden of Eden, twisting the meaning of God’s words to deceive Adam and Eve.

Even in biblical times the educated Scribes and Pharisees could not grasp Jesus’s message. No, it was simple, uneducated people and little children who understood His message with their hearts because they were humble and hungry; they needed more than their mundane life could supply. So Jesus told stories to reach their hearts and feed their inner spirit.

Stories and analogies are still the most effective way to reach man’s inner spirit because the spirit is intuitive.Of course everyone is familiar with St. Patrick’s explanation of the trinity, using the shamrock as a simile. Just as a shamrock has three distinct parts yet each section is part of the leaf; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit three distinct entities, each with a different role and personality, yet they are part of one God.

A more modern explanation could use a model of a simple electric circuit.

The Father is the light bulb on the ceiling, the primary source of light.

Jesus is the light switch because He triggers the connection to intimacy with God.

Finally, The Holy Spirit is the wiring or the connection between man, Jesus and God.

One system but three distinct parts which have different functions.

Or perhaps this image will give you insight into the mystery of the Trinity.

Picture a glass table with a three-legged stool sitting on top. Taking in the scene we can see the entire stool and understand that it is one piece of furniture with three legs.

However what if a young child was blindfolded and then guided to sit under the table. This child has never seen a stool. When asked what he can see with the blind fold removed, without moving his head, he would describe three flat, separate circles.

Now try explaining that a three-dimensional object rests on his glass ceiling.

We are that toddler who cannot grasp what we cannot see with our physical eyes.

No wonder Jesus used simple stories and parables to explain spiritual truths. It was the only way he could come close to explaining the inexplicable.

5 thoughts on “The Purity and Power of Parables

  1. Thank you Melanie for this wonderful post on the power and effectiveness of parables and stories to reach our hearts; to try and glimpse the inexplicable. I am still chuckling at the joke….:)

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  2. I am one of those people:I have the mind of a child and as such, I need simple explanations for complex things, not the other way around. Gos is love. I get that. Maybe that is why I love teaching so much!

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