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March 30, 2022, Adrian, Michigan – Through parables, Jesus turns the world of his listeners upside down and challenges them “to change their perspective, change their hearts, change their behavior” and to bring about the reign of God in their world.

That was the message of Sister Mary Keefe, OP, in her March 21, 2022, presentation, “The Parables.” Her presentation was part of a monthly series of talks sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Spirituality Committee.

Sister Mary Keefe, OP
Sister Mary Keefe, OP

Sister Mary described Jesus’ parables as stories told with beautiful metaphors and images from the daily lives of the people of his time: pearls and yeast, banquets and mustard seeds, kings and shepherds. 

But parables also include an “element of surprise – a hook, designed to bring something new and different to the listeners,” Sister Mary said. Jesus “wove a web around his hearers and then pulled out the hook, the catch, the moral point of the story in such a way that his hearers would remember the meaning of the story for a long time – even to our day.” 

Yet, as powerful as Jesus’ parables were with the people of his day, they may have lost their effectiveness among Christians of our times, Sister Mary said. “The parables have been tamed into platitudes, or worse, assurances that everything is all right with the world as long as we believe in Jesus,” she said. “The parables may have lost some of their impact on us because we know the story. We know how it ends.” 

Many people today are also at a disadvantage because they don’t understand the context of Jesus’ times, Sister Mary said. Inviting her own listeners to put on an “imagined set of First-Century Jewish ears,” she walked through several of Jesus’ parables in depth, explaining the context and Jesus’ message for his original audience – and for us.

  • The Good Samaritan: The popular parable was the result of an exchange between Jesus and a lawyer, who tried to trick Jesus with his question about how to inherit eternal life. When Jesus drew the very simple answer from the lawyer – love of God and love of neighbor – the lawyer asked one more question to get past his embarrassment: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the familiar story of the man who was attacked by robbers, left for dead, and cared for not by religious leaders who passed by but by a Samaritan – part of a sect hated by the Jews of Jesus’ time. “To have a Samaritan as a hero of the story was outrageous,” Sister Mary said. “Because of what he does, the Good Samaritan shows that the concept of neighbor no longer has any limits. It is inclusive to everyone.”

  • The Prodigal Son: Sister Mary set the context by describing the patriarchal culture of first-century Jewish Palestine. In this culture, she said, the men in a family exercised power and authority over their subordinates, and family honor was very important. When the younger son – the prodigal son – left the family for a distant country and squandered his inheritance, he was bringing dishonor to the family. But Sister Mary focused on the father, who – ignoring what his neighbors might have thought – watched for his younger son’s return and welcomed him with joy and compassion. “He did not care what his neighbors thought,” Sister Mary said. “He was not acting like a patriarch. The only important thing was that his son had safely returned home. The father turned the world upside down.” In the same way, she said, the father did not worry about social conventions when he went out to talk to his older son, who was angry at the welcome his brother received. He showed compassion to both sons.

Through these parables, which manifest the reign of God and Jesus’ own mission, Jesus invites us to conversion, Sister Mary said. “Jesus was inviting his hearers to enter the reign of God by entering the story and letting the power of the story transform them,” she said. “According to Jesus, the reign of God is an opportunity that no one can afford to pass up. We must risk whatever is needed in order to grasp it. Everything else is secondary.”

Watch the entire video below.

Feature photo (top): Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons



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