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BEFORE THE CROSS | Parables allow Jesus to shape the imaginations of people

In a similar way, we’re called to make the Gospel come alive in people’s imaginations

This week’s Gospels are full of episodes where Jesus teaches the people.

How does Jesus teach? One way that’s highlighted this week is His parables.

Jesus talks about tying up the strong man and plundering his house, a parable about how He’s overthrowing Satan’s reign. He talks about the sower and the seed that falls on different types of ground, a parable about people’s receptivity to the Gospel. He talks about not hiding your lamp under a basket. He talks about the Kingdom of God as a mustard seed.

Why does Jesus teach in parables? One reason is that it allows Him to shape people’s imaginations.

When we say that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, we tend to think first of rationality — our ability to understand. But another aspect is our creativity, which is an image of God’s creativity. Creativity comes in many different forms: music, poetry, sculpture, painting, architecture, story-telling and so on. But all of them speak to and shape the imagination in some way.

We’re fortunate, in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, to have many great examples of creativity. When people think of art that shapes the imagination they might immediately think of Michelangelo’s sculptures and paintings. But we might just as readily think of the stained-glass work produced for churches throughout the world by Emil Frei Studios in Kirkwood. When people think about music that shapes the imagination they might immediately think of movie themes composed by John Williams (think of “Star Wars,” “Superman,” “Harry Potter,” “Indiana Jones”). But they might just as readily think of the Cathedral Concerts — including the Gospel music series that we’re in the middle of right now (Jan. 18, Jan. 25, and Feb. 1). When people think of story-telling that shapes the imagination, they might immediately think of Shakespeare, or James Gunn (St. Louis University High School class of ’84) and the “Guardians of the Galaxy.” But they might just as readily think of the Joyful Noise Children’s Musical Theater, which draws young people into biblical stories through song, dance and stage production.

There are many examples of people and ministries in the Archdiocese of St. Louis that exercise creativity to address and shape people’s imagination. The REAP team (Retreat, Evangelization, And Prayer) draws adolescents into God’s love through interactive retreats. The Office of Young Adults uses pilgrimage, service, small groups, and social events. ACTS retreats help adults to experience the love of Jesus in community.

Each of these ministries — and many more — follow Jesus’ example of addressing the imagination in some way. Each of us can do the same. We can exercise our creativity to shape people’s imaginations. It allows the Gospel truth of God’s love to penetrate people’s lives not only in words and ideas, but also in images and feelings.

I want to draw our attention to the importance of imagination in conveying the Gospel. And I want to express my gratitude to those who, following Jesus’ example, spend their time and energy in making the Gospel come alive in people’s imaginations.

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