The parables of Jesus found in the four Gospels are rich in meaning and as applicable to Christian living today as they were over 2,000 years ago. Jesus, the master teacher, used examples involving everyday life using characters and situations that could resonate readily with the average listener and reader, both then and now. These stories, passed down orally for years before being recorded in Sacred Scripture, were designed to enlighten and inspire as well as challenge and convict. These treasures from the lips of Christ can help us along our way in the 21st century as we sojourn through our faith-life. I have chosen three passages from Sacred Scripture to serve as our guide for this article.
Our journey begins with the pericope of a blind beggar named Bartimaeus and ends with the parable of the wedding feast (sometimes referred to as the Eschatological Banquet). In between, at the very center, lies the story of the Prodigal Son. These passages, starting with the “aha” moment of Bartimaeus, will help to illuminate the path as we travel along the Christian way.
As with any journey, an up-to-date roadmap is essential. These timeless stories will take us from the initial stirrings of conversion to our particular judgment that precedes our entrance into heaven.
Just remember: death and judgment are both the “end of the road” as well as the beginning of eternal life with God. Effective Christian living involves living in the sacrament of the moment, always ready for a “fast pass” or earlier departure than we might have expected. Whether our journey lasts nine years or ninety years, the principles for Christian living contained within these teachings will be applicable and as efficacious as they were when they were heard directly from Jesus in ancient Palestine.
“Master, Let Me Receive My Sight”
When Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus as He passed through Jericho, others tried to rebuke him (Mark 10:48). Neither Bartimaeus nor Jesus was deterred from having a (now legendary) conversation. When Jesus asked the blind man what he wanted, the response was “Master, let me receive my sight” (Mark 10:51).
While the response of the blind man may have been obvious and predictable, the answer from Jesus was unexpected and unpredictable. In addition to his natural sight, Bartimaeus was given a spiritual insight that enabled him to become a disciple of Christ that very day. The lesson is that even though we ask for something we deem important, God will give us much more.
The Elder Brother
The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) invites us to place ourselves in the role of the three main characters: the father, the prodigal son and the elder brother. The father, representing God, granted his son what he requested. Knowing what would most likely occur, he waited patiently for his son’s return. The son, upon realizing his mistake, began to rehearse what he would say on his way back home with an eye toward repentance and forgiveness. Instead of waiting for his son to walk through the door, the father watched vigilantly to see the first glimpse (Luke 15:20). Now let’s make way for the star of the show: the elder brother.
I believe that while all of us can relate to the father and the Prodigal Son, it is the elder brother that best represents those of us who participate in the mission of the church on a daily basis. We, the “salt of the Earth”, can easily become bitter as we watch our siblings squander their lives in a manner similar to that of the wayward son. An undercurrent of anger and resentment sets in as we strive to live on meat and potatoes while the rest of the world dines sumptuously on the (seemingly) exotic fare of a sinful existence. We place ourselves outside while forgiveness and reconciliation are happening inside. Our wayward brothers and sisters experience God’s forgiveness and mercy while we remain bitter. I would like to think that the elder brother eventually came to his senses and went inside. We, of course, have the choice to do exactly that when we extend our forgiveness to others.
Our Particular Judgment
At the end of our journey here on Earth, we will undergo our particular judgment. This conversation with Jesus will occur at the moment of death (Catechism of the Catholic Church § 1022). The parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14) can serve as a template or protocol as to how this meeting of meetings will go.
When the king sees a man coming to the banquet not properly dressed, he addresses him as “friend” (Matthew 22:12). I believe this encounter prefigures the dynamic of our particular judgment with Jesus. In essence, we will be asked why we are not clothed properly for the eschatological banquet. The man in this parable is given a chance to repent. Instead of saying something (anything) acknowledging his condition, he said nothing. Returning to Bartimaeus for a moment, I would quote him verbatim: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47)
As we sojourn through our journey of faith let us thank God for the lessons learned through the parables and pericopes He has given to us in Sacred Scripture.