Christ uses parables as an important teaching tool. We have some difficulty engaging their impact because we have grown up hearing them. We tend to think of parables as touchy-feely stories of God’s love. Actually, parables always have an unusual twist. Christ’s original audience would have been puzzled or disturbed by the twists and turns in the story (e.g. The Unjust Steward Luke 16:1 – 13). We need to listen for those discords. Christ means them to lead us to a message.
Each of the parables has a unique character. Think about the Parable of the Rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31). This is the only parable of Jesus recorded in the gospels where a character has a name. Remember the story. Lazarus is a poor man suffering. The rich man ignores him. In time, they both die. Lazarus is taken to comfort and the rich man suffers in the afterlife. The critical feature of this parable is where the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to talk to his family, “I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” (Luke 16:27). The rich man then exclaims, “if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” (Luke 16:30). Abraham responds, “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:31).
Parables are supposed to be hypothetical situations. But remember the poor man has a name, Lazarus. Think about the gospel for the fifth Sunday in Lent (John 11:1 – 45). Jesus has a friend named…Lazarus, who dies. Christ raises Lazarus from the dead. Would that not be impressive? Perhaps people would start to take Christ more seriously. We read a few versus later, “So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well.” (John 12:10). Someone, Lazarus, came back from the dead and a lot of people were unimpressed.
We can be tempted to sneer at the scribes, Pharisees and chief priests as narrow and closed minded, but St John, and St Luke were inspired by the Holy Spirit to record these words and actions of Christ for people of all centuries. What is the message for you and me today? We have revelation from God. We have Sacred Scripture. We have the teaching of the Church. Just as importantly, if we engage in the sacramental life of the Church, we strengthen our relationship with God. Christ came into the world to make the sacrifice by which we are offered forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. That is what baptism is about. That is what Mass and Confession are about. However, we must be willing to hear the message and take the relationship seriously. This is not always convenient and can, sometimes, be scary. We need to pray for trust that God wants what is best for us and listen to Him.