Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Why Christ Speaks in Parables—Insight into Faith & Reason

In chapter 13, verses 10 – 17 of the Gospel of Matthew, Christ is asked by his disciples why he speaks to the people in parables. This passage states:

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: ‘You shall indeed hear, but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s hear has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

Christ is letting his disciples know that he is not providing a simple allegorical comparison in his teachings. Rather, his parables are “enigmatic communications.” In one sense we can speak about the life of the “kingdom of God” in an open manner. Yet, it is not that simple. In his book Matthew: Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching, Douglas Hare explains why. He explains,

There is a mystery about the kingdom that requires greater reserve because of the very different response it demands. Divorce, love of enemies, and other matters concerning human relationships can be discussed rationally in relation to what the Scriptures reveal about God’s will, but the question of what God is doing in our midst is not of the same order. If someone shouts ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater, the truth claim can be evaluated in due course — after the building has been evacuated! If Jesus declares that the presence of the Spirit of God in his exorcisms indicates that the last judgment is imminent, an immediate decision is called for as in a theater, but the truth claim cannot be assessed on the basis of empirical data.

Douglas Hare’s explanation is a great starting point to ask: why is truth, communicated to us in the Gospels, not always an empirically verifiable thing? Why can we not verify the assertions Christ is making in an evidence-based manner?

Hare goes on to answer that it is because “God does not make himself available for our inspection . . . ‘The secrets of the kingdom,’ accordingly are not taught, but revealed.” This insight speaks to the core meaning of this particular passage in the Gospels. What does it mean to know something; through rational processes, verified by scientific methods, and grounded as statistical data; versus knowing truth, that is communicable to us, but is beyond our abilities to comprehend using our own faculties?

This sense of knowing is perhaps what Christ means when he contrasts “being able to see, but not seeing; being able to hear, but not hearing, nor understanding.” Christ’s contrast lends itself to the relationship between knowing empirically and believing something that is revealed. What he is getting at is the relationship between faith and reason. At the same time, Christ is using the nature of parables in a manner that reflects the nature of the Gospels, as truth, articulated to us through Sacred Scripture.

Christ certainly was the Teacher. However, the manner in which he taught in parables speaks to us through Sacred Scripture as something revealed — it is Revelation! Its validity is grounded in that its contents about the “kingdom” came from above, in so far as God allows us to know it. This is how we believe the Gospels and the entire canon of Sacred Scripture to be truth.

1 comment:

Marc said...

beautiful! That is why I love the Catholic faith.

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