About a month or so ago, I had a lengthy and very educational conversation about parables with a dear friend. We agreed they were a critical teaching tool used by Christ throughout the New Testament. However, we spent a lot of time discussing why He used them, who the audience was at the time He used them, if they were meant to not be heard by those with hardened hearts, and if they were an earthly story with a spiritual truth. I’ll save those questions for another post, instead, I’d like to look at the parable from a slightly different angle.
Whenever I hear a parable in the gospel, for some reason, I try to find my role. I have a tendency to ask “who am I in this parable”. As an example, a few years ago my daughter, through a religion project at school, was asked how a Protestant views the parables versus how a Catholic views them. So I called one of my friends, who happens to be a convert, and he had a simple and very effective example that was incredibly enlightening. Let me try it on you:
The Good Samaritan
When you read the parable of “The Good Samaritan” (Luke 10: 25-37), who are you in that story? Are you the Jewish man who was beaten and left for dead, the priest and Levite who ignored him, or are you the Samaritan who stops and helps the man?
When my friend asked me this question, I immediately answered, “I’m the Jewish man who was robbed and beaten.” My friend asking a follow up question, “Who is Christ in that story?” With which I answered, “The Samaritan.” My friend explained that as a Protestant he was always taught that he was the Samaritan, not the man left for dead. I wish I could say that I remember being taught who I was in that parable in my Catholic education somewhere or that I heard it in a specific homily, but I can’t. We agreed that it was in one place or the other and we continued a conversation about the differences as to where “I” fit into the parables.
The Wicked Tenant
This brings me to another parable, one that made me scratch my head as to where I see myself in it. It’s the story of the wicked tenant.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,
put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
When vintage time drew near,
he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.
But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat,
another they killed, and a third they stoned.
Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones,
but they treated them in the same way.
Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking,
‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,
‘This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
They answered him,
“He will put those wretched men to a wretched death
and lease his vineyard to other tenants
who will give him the produce at the proper times.”
For this parable, I had to use the process of elimination. I started with the beginning of the parable and surmised that the landowner is God since He does send His son to the vineyard, only to be unjustly killed by the servants. So that left me two other choices; the tenants and the servants. So who am I? Am I sent to collect the fruits of the vineyard and return them to the Lord? Or do I look to overthrow His messengers and keep the vineyard for myself?
It was easier to say I am not like the tenant who wants to keep the vineyard for myself until I thought about it on a less extreme level. How open am I to the people God puts in my life? If, in my own wisdom, deem someone’s presence and intent in my life to not align with my own intentions, how can I be open to the people God has sent me? Instead, I should open my eyes and my heart to everyone in my life as they are messengers from God. Besides, the fruit I bear is not for me. It is for God and is meant to be shared with those in my life.