Regina’s Writings: Why Did Jesus Say That?

By M. Regina Cram

Some Gospel stories confuse our 21st-century minds. Here are observations that may help. 

The Parable of the Great Banquet: A man held a wedding feast. When invited guests made flimsy, last-minute excuses, he sent servants to the highways and byways to bring others to the celebration. When the hall was full, the king noticed that one guest was not in wedding attire. The man was thrown out.

Our logical reaction is that, of course, the guy wasn’t in wedding attire. He’d just arrived from the highways and byways. But in first-century Palestine, hosts often provided wedding garments for the guests. This man attended the feast but refused the master’s grace, which is why he was rejected.

Follow Me – Let me first . . . . :A scribe told Jesus, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.”… Another disciple said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’”

Jesus’s words sound callous until we understand this: the father was not yet dead. This man wanted to return home for the rest of his father’s life, and only then would he follow Christ. Jesus’s point was that following Him is rarely convenient.

The Good Samaritan: A lawyer asked, “Who is our neighbor?” Jesus told of a traveler who was beaten and left for dead along the dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. A priest passed by without stopping, as did a Levite – both religious men of the time. It was a Samaritan who attended to the injured man and paid for his care.

Jews detested Samaritans. To a Jew, the term ‘Good Samaritan’ was an oxymoron; it would be like calling someone a virtuous axe murderer. And yet it was a Samaritan who showed mercy, not religious leaders.

Jesus’ message was clear: show the compassion of the Samaritan, not the judgmentalism of religious leaders.

The Prodigal Son: The younger son of a wealthy landowner greedily demanded his inheritance, then squandered it on foolishness. Starving and destitute, he hired on with a pig farmer – the ultimate in degradation for a kosher Jew. When the young man came to his senses, he returned home in shame to beg his father’s forgiveness. The father was overjoyed and threw a feast to celebrate. The older brother, however, resented the fact that his reckless brother got a banquet just for showing up.

As soon as the prodigal headed home, the father ran out to meet him. This means the father, who represents God, had been watching and hoping. Ignoring the fact that his son was ritually unclean, the father fell on his son’s neck and kissed him. The father’s mercy was lavish—like God’s mercy to us.

The older son represents the Pharisees, who stressed the letter of the law rather than compassion. The self-righteous older son refused to rejoice when a sinner returned home.

Many of Jesus’s parables extend mercy to outcasts while condemning the self-righteous.

M. Regina Cram is a published author and parishioner of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish.