Posted September 05, 2011 in Word Made Flesh:

by Fr. Pat McNulty.

Well, you started it with all that "grow, grow" parable commentary last time, and there’s parables all over the Sunday readings this time. So, before you get on your soapbox and preach another sermon, I wanna make some comments.

I wanna say that it’s easy to get the point in some of the parables about people like the guy who owed about a million bucks but his bookie believed his sad little tale—which I don’t even think was true—tore up the IOU and let the guy go debt free.

But Mr. Debt Free darn well deserved what he got in the end for beatin’ up on a buddy who owed him probably a measly five bucks. That’s what I call a "people-parable" because it makes real good sense to us ordinary people, and…

In case you are interested that’s not exactly how the parable from Matthew’s Gospel for the 24th Sunday reads—bookies and bucks and IOU’s—but you’ve got part of it right. I think you just…

I’m not finished yet, Reverend! I was gonna say, before I was so rudely interrupted, that most people like me, however, do not get that other people-parable about the boss who hired guys all day long and, in the end gave everybody the same pay check.

That one makes no sense to us people who work hard all day for a living. Why should anybody struggle to walk the walk or follow the rules if all ya gotta do is show up at the last minute? I don’t know where Jesus is comin’ from on that one.

Well, you’re in good company because a lot of people, including the disciples, didn’t know where Jesus was coming from most of the time. But maybe you should start with some of the other "people parables," as you call them, where the lesson is more personal no matter what your own life situation is.


There’s a bit of people-parable in the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the Pharisee and Publican who went up to the temple to pray…

Yeah, but even some of them don’t fit. Hey, if I was caught praying in church like that Republican or the other guy in the parable, I wouldn’t be goin’ home "righteous." With my stuffy pastor, after he called 911, I wouldn’t be goin’ home at all!

Well … Oh, by the way, the man praying in the back of the temple was not a Republican, but a publican, a sinner, but not necessarily associated with any political party. (Wouldn’t that be a miracle!)

In any case, though it might be interesting to look at certain parables in terms of how we live our everyday life versus how the people in the parable are presented, which is not what a people-parable is all about.

These parables are telling us something personal about God, and unless we understand that, they can turn out to be nothing more than pop-wisdom rather than divine revelation, which is what they really are.

I feel a sermon comin’ on again!

Actually I’m hoping that the Spirit leads us both into something a little more "divine."

One of the most common mistakes many of us make when it comes to the parables—indeed it’s a mistake we sometimes make in our whole sense of the Gospels—is that we often forget that Jesus is not giving a teaching on ethics or morality, or the heaven and hell thing.

He is first and foremost revealing to us God as God is: how God lives, if you will! Once we come to that level of "grace" in the Gospels, in the parables, everything else falls into perspective: ethics, morality, heaven, hell, you and me, and "all those guys who came late for work" as you put it.

So, when we read or hear the Gospels read, we have to constantly remember that the primary person in the parable is not a wise religious guru we have put together from our own historical experiences, be they spiritual, scientific or philosophical.

What Jesus "reveals" in the people-parables is the way God sees things, the way God responds to our life, the way God offers us salvation and hope. In a word, it is all divine revelation.

But there’s lots of people who know God pretty well but don’t know anything about any "divine revelation."

Notice I said, "to know God as God is," which is not the same as simply "knowing God."

The mammoth historical witness we have from every form of "religion" speaks about God, sometimes in wonderful and life-giving ways, but the Gospels tell us something we could never know by way of mere religion, no matter how holy it might be.

In the Gospels, we come to know God as God is. When that is clear to us, everything in the parables takes on a sudden, simple "divine" clarity.

In that parable about "the guys who were late for work" as you say, Jesus is not teaching some new form of holy economic justice. Among other things, he is revealing to us that our salvation is not like a pay check based on how much time we’ve put in "on the job."

It is a pure gift of God no matter when we showed up on the job. And God can give it to anyone at any time whenever God pleases, even an hour before its all over.

Our task is to "do the job" we have been given well, no matter when we were called. That, my friend, is revelation of the divine kind.

If we understood that, we would have no questions about those who "came late," because the fact that everyone in the parable was paid in full, saved, would bring us such peace, hope, and compassion for each other, that we would all shout "Alleluia" together at the end of the parable.

Now that I think of it, that would be a great way to end this whole discussion, with an alleluia.

Wait a minute! This is just gettin’ interesting, Reverend, and I ain’t finished yet. A simple "hallelewya" ain’t gonna do it for me now.

Maybe not, but it’s 1:30 in the morning. At this time of night, people-parables get more and more simple: an alleluia will do it just fine for me.

So yer just gonna quit? Man, there’s gotta be a parable in there somewhere!

Now that’s a great idea! You should write that up and send it to my editor.

Write it up? Hey, it’s 1:30 in the morning.

That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to tell you. Good night.


If you enjoy our articles, we ask you to please consider subscribing to the print edition of Restoration; it's only $10 a year, and will help us stay in print. Thanks, and God bless you!


Restoration Contents

Next article:
Go Forth - But Stay Put

Previous article:
The Holiness of Work



RSS 2.0RSS feed

Madonna House - A Training Centre for the Lay Apostolate