“So what’s the game plan?” I’ve heard (and said) on many occasions, but it was never anything regarding a sporting event. People who have never been professional racers use, “I need to make a pit stop” when they have an errand to complete during their travel from point A to point B. How many of us play “Monday morning quarterback” when we offer our thoughts on how we would have done something differently?
These analogies are familiar to us, yet most of us do not play the sport referenced in our saying. We may not even follow that sport. I have never watched a racing event, yet I know what a pit stop is, and I’ve used that saying. I may not understand the specific dynamics of the offense versus the defense in football, but I can generally understand the analogies when they are mentioned because the sport is part of our culture. We use these sayings all the time, and as long as people understand the culture, they can understand what we mean. I’m sure in other foreign countries, there are also unique sayings that although composed of familiar words, may not make any sense to us.
Jesus understood this and used parables to teach about the kingdom of God. Our human limitations allow us to only partially begin to understand the divine kingdom. To help us comprehend, Jesus compared it to things we know and understand. Sheep and shepherding were common in His time, and even if the people themselves were not raising sheep, they either knew someone who did, or had enough dealings with sheep that they could understand the references He was making. I have occasionally attended the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival to purchase fiber, tools, and wheels for spinning yarn. While at the Festival, I have had plenty of time to observe sheep. I’ve seen a sheep crane her neck out of a pen to munch a particular flower – even though the pen was set up over many of the same flowers. My first inclination was to smile and think, “what a silly sheep,” but after hearing the various parables about sheep, I’ve started to see how my actions are similar to those of that sheep: not happy with what I have and straining elsewhere to try and get it.
We hear parables often during the Gospel at Mass, but because times have changed since then, some of those stories can be hard for us to fully appreciate. It’s all too easy to say “I don’t understand therefore it’s not important to me.” I’ve often wondered what sort of sport Jesus would use in telling his parables today and if I would be able to understand them better? Maybe the parables are given to us to make us think a bit more about the story and to remember the point more easily. When you encounter a difficult parable, it helps to ask Jesus in prayer what He meant. Perhaps these stories are to instigate a deeper relationship with God by drawing the listener in little by little as the story is pondered and prayed about, calling us to use the experiences in our daily lives to go deeper the next time we hear that story. And maybe someday we will see the story of the kingdom of God unfolding from the everyday because of the framework provided by Jesus’ parable.