instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, October 29, 2012

Cultivating questions

The parable in Saturday's Gospel reading illustrates the difference between a good parable and a good story:
And he told them this parable: "There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, 'For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?'

He said to him in reply, 'Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.'"
If this were a plain old story, we might ask questions like: Who's the protagonist here? Where's the character growth? What kind of dramatic arc do you call that?

Since it's a parable, though, we know to ask questions like: Who does the orchard owner represent? Who does the gardener represent? Who does the fig tree represent? What does "cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it" (or, in the Douay Rheims earthier translation, "dig about it, and dung it") signify?

And since this particular parable is told to dispel any notion that the people killed by the falling tower at Siloam were somehow guiltier than all the people who weren't killed, we should be sure to ask: How many times has the orchard owner checked for my fruit without finding any? How do I respond when the ground around me is dug about? How do I respond to being dunged?