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But what gives to the parables of Jesus Christ a merit which not only sets them above all, that the most celebrated authors have written in that kind, but moreover above all, that the human understanding is capable of imagining, is, that they are at once theological, prophetic, and moral ; and that often they present, at the same time, under the same symbol, the image of the designs of God upon men, the image of future events the most interesting for religion, and, in fine, the delineation of our chief duties, and that with so wonderful an art, that all the particularities of the allegory agree equally well with these three grand objects.*
* The Holy Ghost foretold by the prophets, that the Messiah should speak in parables, that this was* to be one of his characteristics ; and the evangelists relate of Jesus Christ, that he never “ spoke to the people but in parables.”+
This manner of instructing has many advantages over all others, it is more adapted to the understanding of the illiterate, it attaches them without fatiguing them. It engraves on their mind more deeply the truth, which it presents under agreeable images; for all these reasons, it was that which a God-man ought to have adopted.
All men do not easily conceive general maxims, and the generality of them are little fit to make the application of them to particular cases, and to the different situations in which they may find themselves in the course of their life, much less are they capable of locking up in their memory a long list of general maxims, of perceiving their relations, and of drawing thence practical inferences. The parable supplies ail: first the fable agreeably strikes the imagination by its novelty and singularity, the mind next discovers with delicate pleasure, the justness of the relations that exist between the fable and the maxim or the truth, which it means to inculcate; the hearer or reader carries with him that fable, reflects on it and compares it repeatedly with the truth whose symbol it is: he is always more enchanted with the resemblance, which he perceives between the one and the other, and thus they both are indelibly impressed in the memory.
At all times parables were employed for the instruction of men, and always with the best success. This manner of instructing requires in him that makes use of it, much judgment, and a just and deep mind. It is necessary that the analogy that exists between the symbol and the truth which it is intended to
* "I will open my mouth in parables: I will utter propositions from the ben ginning." Psalm lxxvii. 2.
+ “ All these things Jesus spoke in parables to the multitude 1 and without parables be did not speak to them," Math, xiii. 34.
CLX. I am not less struck at the answers and replies which Jesus Christ makes to those who propose to bim cap. tious questions to embarrass him, or to draw from his mouth some decision, of which they might make a crime. Such is that which he made to the Pharisees, who brought to his feet
represent by the symbol, should be exact, at least as to what constitutes the principal object of the comparison, and easy to be seized.
It is especially under this point of view the parables of Jesus Christ deservo all our admiration. For in these parables not only the history or the symbol has an exact relation, in all its circumstances, with the principal object of the comparison; but it moreover applies at once to several objects, all equally great and worthy of God, and agrees with each one with the same justness as to all its circumstances. The first object of these parables is the establishment of the kingdom of God upon earth by the preaching of the gospel, its progress and astonishing fruits; the second is the reprobation of the Jews on account of their ingratitude, and the vocation of the Gentiles instead of them; the third the teaching of virtue.
There is scarce any of the parables of Jesus Christ, that has not reference to these three objects, and which does not equally well agree with each of them. This is clearly seen in the parable of the head of a family, who sends first his servants, and then his son, to those to whom he had rented his vineyard, and who unmercifully put them to death one after another; in that of a king, whe makes a great bavquer for the wedding of his son, and who seeing himself dis. dained by those whon, he had first invited, causes the poor and wretched of all kinds to be called in their place; in that of the prodiyal child, who returning from his wanderings, was a figure of the Gentiles; and of his elder brother, who, being jealous of the reception which their common father gives him, was a figure of the Jewish people; in that of the two brothers, one of whom at first promised the father to go and work in his field, but after all did not go, and the other who refused at first to go, but notwithstanding went afterwards ; in the parable of the master of a family, who, at different hours of the day sent several bands of labourers into his vineyard, and causes the same wages to be given to all at the end of the day ; in that of the charitable Samaritan, a figure of Jesus Christ whom the Jews called by this odious name, and who cured the wounds of the Gentiles, represented by this man who went out from Jerusalem, that is to say, who had abandoned the worship of the true God, and who had fallen a prey to robbers, that is, to the devils. All these parables, which we have just now indicated, and almost all others are at once theological, prophetic, and moral ; and in whichever of these three senses they be taken, the allegory is always so just, so well maintained, and so perfectly suiting the subject according to ali its particulars, that it is self-evident that there was none but one inspired by God that could unite in the same symbol and under the same point of view, so many different instructions.
a woman surprised in adultery, in order that he might judge her: that which he made to the Herodians, who asked him whether it was lawful for the Jews to pay the tribute to Cæ
The mind is astonished at the readiness with which Jesus Christ discovers the most bidden intentions of his enemies ; at the presence of mind, the coolness, the noble and peaceful tranquillity, with which he answers them; at the infinite dexterity, with which, whilst he is extricating himself from the intended embarrassment, he suddenly envelopes them in the same snares, which they had laid for him. Without answering their question in a doctrinal manner, he resolves it in one word, and this word is a grand sentence, which contains the most profound lessons, “Let him amongst you that is without sin," he says to the former, " throw the first stone at her." “Give to Cæsar," he says to the latter, after having asked for a piece of money stamped with the image of the prince, "give to Cæsar what belongs to Cæsar, and to God what belongs to God.” At the moment Jesus pronounces these words, his enemies are seen to be covered with confusion, but they do not appear to be incensed against him, because it was not he, but truth alone, that confounds them. I dare say that, to an. swer with such wisdom, it was necessary to be prepared for it from all eternity.
CLXI. The exhortations of Jesus Christ are not less deserving the admiration of mankind than his precepts, bis maxims, his parables, and his answers. In them a divine eloquence causes itself to be felt. There reigns in them a strength of persuasion, which it is not possible to resist. You imagine that he takes his reasonings from your very mind, so prompt and indeliberate is the assent which you give to them. The moment on which they strike your ears, is the very moment, in which you conceive them and yield your assent to them. Listen to this divine orator, when he exhorts men to abandon themselves to the fatherly cares of divine provi. dence. “Be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than tbe food, and the body more than the raiment? (How, therefore, could he, who has given you the life and the body, refuse you the nourishment, of which the one stands in need, and the garment, which is necessary to the other?) Behold, the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns: yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they? And, which of you can add to his stature one cubit? And for rai
how they grow : they labour not, neither do they spip. And yet I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. Now, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, how much more you, O ye of little faith! Be not solicitous, therefore, saying: what shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed ? For after all these things do the heathen seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye, therefore, first the Kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not, therefore, solicitous for to-morrow: * for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.” Matthew vi. 25–34.
Give ear again to the divine Saviour, when be exhorts men to pray, and to expect every blessing from that God, on whom they call in their wants, “ what man is there among you, of whom, if his son ask bread, will he reach him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he reach him a serpent? If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father, who is in heaven, give good things to them that ask him." Math, vii. 9–12.
How evil soever you are of yourselves and of your own pature, still you are good towards your children; you love them; you are moved at their wants, their prayers have upon your hearts a power, which you cannot resist, you always give them what is fit for them; how much more will God, who is your Father, be touched with your wants, and suffer himself to be overcome by your prayers, he, who by his nature and essence,
is bounty itself? The love which you have for your children, it is he that has created it in your hearts, how then should he not find it in his own ? Do you imagine that he has made you better than he is himself? This is what I conceive to be contained in this admirable exhortation of Jesus Christ. Can there be any thing in the world more true, more beautiful, more sensible, and more persuasive? And who does not feel that it is thus a God-man was to plead before men the cause of his divine attributes ?*
* “ If any one doubts,” says a judicious writer, " of the superiority and fanscendent excellence of the doctrine of Jesus Christ above all others that have been precedently taught, let him read with attention those incomparable writings, through the channel of which it has been transmitted to us; and let him compare them with the most renowned productions of the pagan world ; and if he does not feel, that they are more than any other writing beautiful, simple, original, I have no difficulty to pronounce him as destitute of taste as of faith, and as poor a critic, as bad a christian. For, where shall we find, in the school of ancient philosophy, lessons of morality comparable to those which are set forth by the Incarnate Wisdom in his Sermon on the Mountain? From what philosopher shall we learn an address to the Deity, such as our Lord's prayer, at once so concise and so expressive, as to contain all our wants and all we are to sue for ?
What writing of the sages of antiquity shall furnish us with an exhortation as pathetic and as cogent to engage men to succour those that are in distress, as those words of Jesus Christ: “ Then shall the King say to them that, are on his right hand: come, ye blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of thc world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink : I was a stranger, and you took me in : naked, and you clothed me : sick, aud you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee : thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in, or naked and clothed thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee? And the king, answering, shall say unto them: Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, yon did it to me,” &c. Math. xxiv, 34-41.
What is there in any of the most celebrated poets of pagan antiquity, that can equal in sublimity the description of the joys which are reserved for the just in the life to come : “ then shall the just shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father.” Math. xiii. 43. “Come ye blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom, prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Math. xxvi. 34. “The eye hath not seen, nor ear beard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him," I Cor. ii, 9.