XXXXIII. In Chapter Seven of Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict next turns to the parables of Jesus. These are the heart of Jesus’ preaching and retain their freshness and humanity across all the changes of time and culture. While scholars have argued about the “right” way to categorize and class the parables, they exceed the boundaries of literary criticism and their richness covers a range of forms – allegory, metaphor, illustration, exhortation, etc.
The parables are more than just pleasant stories about humanity and the moral life, nor are they all directly about the imminent Kingdom except that all point to the presence of that Kingdom already with the presence of Jesus. This understanding goes beyond a historical event to a sacramental one: the Paschal Mystery fulfills history, but does not end it; we still await the return of the Lord at the end of time, yet He is also ever-present in the life of the Church.
Reviewing the scholarship, Pope Benedict interprets the parables through the lens of Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 6:10 regarding the failure of the prophets to convince their hearers to turn to the Lord. Thus the parables are only unlocked in the mystery of the Cross, where Jesus’ apparent failure becomes the perfect revelation and completion of His mission from the Father. He is the seed that falls to the ground and dies, the mustard seed that grows to a shelter for many, the son of the vineyard owner whose death purchases a share in the inheritance.