XXXIX. The parables, then, are a familiar teaching method, using examples and illustrations to reveal deeper layers of meaning hidden in the ordinary and commonplace. They constitute a dialogue between teacher and pupil, because they require engagement by the imagination and one’s own life experiences to see something new in the teacher’s words.
Thus the parables may fail to connect if the hearers are unwilling to enter the dialogue and embrace the lesson revealed. Then they become merely matters of study and scholarship rather than an appeal to accept the nearness and reality of God. For our age, he notes, with its scientific criteria of experimentation and verification as the only reliable source of truth, the parables may be even more difficult. Throughout Scripture, there are various moments where it is clear that God cannot be subject to experimentation and proofs by humanity (see for example Psalm 95 and Exodus 17, as well as the trial of Jesus in His Passion).
So instead of being simple moral lessons about good behavior, Jesus’ parables call us to conversion in a fallen world. Benedict summarizes: “ … the parables are ultimately an expression of God’s hiddenness in this world and of the fact that knowledge of God always lays claim to the whole person – that such knowledge is one with life itself, and that it cannot exist without repentance. For in this world, marked by sin, the gravitational pull of our lives is weighted by the claims of the ‘I’ and the ‘self.’ These chains must be broken to free us for a new love that places us in another gravitational field where we can enter new life. In this sense, knowledge of God is possible only through the gift of God’s love becoming visible, but this gift too has to be accepted. … the mystery of the Cross is inscribed right at the heart of the parables” (pp. 193-94).