Bishop's Interview: An invitation to explore the Word of God
Editor: Bishop, recently in the Sunday Gospels we have heard Jesus talk in parables. What is a parable?
Bishop Vásquez: This liturgical year we have been hearing the Gospel of Matthew during our Sunday Mass. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus uses parables to describe the kingdom of Heaven. A popular description of a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Jesus uses parables to effectively communicate a particular aspect of God or the kingdom of Heaven. In these parables Jesus uses themes or stories that were familiar to people. For instance, a sower, a seed, soil, leaven and dough would have been common to people because they were people of the land. Jesus uses ordinary references which people used or noticed in their lives on a daily basis.
Jesus used parables to express the reality of God and his kingdom. Within each parable, God’s activity is present and we are also present. I particularly enjoy parables because often they surprise us. For example, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, we would think that the good son, the son who didn’t leave home, would be the one who would be celebrated, yet it doesn’t turn out that way. Instead, it is the son who left home and then returned who is celebrated.
The language Jesus uses at the end of this parable is very important. As he speaks to the elder son, the father says, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” (Lk 15:11) This parable is about our merciful relationship with God the Father who loves both sons abundantly.
Editor: Why do you think that Jesus used parables so often?
Bishop Vásquez: Jesus uses parables because stories are an effective way to communicate to the very heart of the people. We love good stories, and we love someone who is a great story teller. Jesus was a master of using parables to help people understand God. With the vast amounts of information at our fingertips today, the challenge for us is opening our imaginations and our hearts to God as the constant demand for attention by media surrounds us. A parable engages me, the listener, to be an active participant. Even after hearing the parable, I continue to ponder it on different levels. As we continue to grow in our faith, the parables take on new meanings for each of us.
Editor: What is your favorite parable?
Bishop Vásquez: That is a difficult question because I love so many of them. Obviously, the Prodigal Son is great, but even the simple ones like when Jesus compares the kingdom of God to the mustard seed are intriguing. The tiniest seed that gets planted and then it grows as a huge bush where the birds come to rest. The imagery there is that the kingdom of God goes almost unperceived or unnoticed, but it grows and becomes very strong, and it permeates everything. The birds symbolize that everybody is welcome to the kingdom. No one is excluded, no one is kept out.
The Good Samaritan is a powerful parable as well. The priest and the Levite who should have helped the Jewish man walk right passed him. However, the Samaritan, who is considered an enemy of the Jews, is the one who is filled with compassion and stops to render aid. He uses his own resources to take the injured man to a place of safety and then commits to paying for the ongoing treatment of the man. He goes out of his way to get this man the care that he needs. “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” Jesus asked. “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Lk 10:36) There is so much richness in this parable, which is why it has always been one of my favorites.
Editor: For those who would like to start reading and praying with Scriptures regularly do you have any recommendations?
Bishop Vásquez: I recommend starting with the Gospels because they are all about Jesus, the Son of God. The Gospels tell us about Jesus’ life and his public ministry. The Gospels answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” Each one of them looks at him uniquely, yet they are quite consistent. The Gospels resoundingly proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God the Father who sent his Son into the world to save humanity.
The Scriptures are the word of God, but they are not simply words –– written words would be limiting the power of God. The Word of God is what is being proclaimed, what is being heard and then what is being planted into the heart of the person and finally how that person responds to the Word.
“The Bible is not meant to be placed on a shelf, but to be in your hands, to read often — every day, both on your own and together with others,” Pope Francis said in 2015.
In that same talk, the pope said he would not trade his “old, worn out” Bible for a new one because “it is my most precious treasure.” He went on to encourage us to read Scripture “with attention! … Never just skim the Word of God! Ask yourself: ‘What does this say to my heart? Does God speak through these words to me? Has he touched me in the depths of my longing? What should I do?’ Only in this way can the force of the Word of God unfold. Only in this way can it change our lives, making them great and beautiful.”
I hope that people will indeed listen to or read the Scriptures daily. We can carry the Gospels with us or we can bookmark them on our computers. The daily readings can easily be found at www.usccb.org/bible/readings.
Editor: What is your prayer as we continue the journey through Ordinary Time?
Bishop Vásquez: My prayer is that we grow in a deep appreciation and love for God’s holy Word. May we allow God’s Word to take root in our hearts and produce abundant fruit, so we may be faithful disciples of Jesus and respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters who hunger for God.