I wrote the following a week ago but never got around to posting it. Nevertheless, I hope you’ll find it worth reading.
First Readings — Isaiah 55:10-11; Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; 1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
Second Reading — Romans 8:18-23; 26-27; 28-30
Gospel — Matthew 13:1-23; 24-43; 44-52
There could hardly have been a better time for me to have missed posting on the Sunday readings than the past couple of weeks. Not only are the second readings for all three Sundays from close together in the Epistle to the Romans, but, more importantly, the gospel readings present the entirety of a section in Matthew which may be called “Parables of the Kingdom.”
There are seven parables and they can be categorized in different ways, I suppose. I see four groups:
- sower and seed (first parable);
- mustard seed, yeast (second and third parables);
- hidden treasure, pearl of great price (fifth and sixth parables); and
- weeds and wheat, net cast into the sea (fourth and seventh parables).
The first parable is about the sower and the seed. The type of ground the seed falls on — path, rocky ground, weeds and thorns, good soil — determines its growth or lack of growth. God’s word — above all, Jesus, but also the gospel of salvation — is effective for the growth of God’s Kingdom to the extent that those who hear it are receptive. The Kingdom of God relies on people who internalize the word then spreading it in their turn.
The second group of parables tell of the internal dynamism of the Kingdom. If it is true that believers must evangelize. the Kingdom of God’s growth also take place because of an unseen power which energizes it, just as the mustard seed seems to grow on its own and a bit of yeast has power to leaven a batch of dough. This unseen power is none other than the Holy Spirit. (See the second readings for July 12 and 19.)
The third group tell us the the Kingdom of God is worth more than everything else. That is because it brings eternal happiness with God and the rest of the members of the Kingdom in a life beyond our present one. Next to that any good thing we can enjoy in this life is only temporary and worthless. That doesn’t mean that it is easy to sell everything to buy the hidden treasure or the pearl of great price. There could be some really good stuff, there could be some stuff of great sentimental value. But in principle, we have to be ready to let it go, if necessary. And of course, we can’t take it with us when we go. On the other hand, it is also true that most people get to keep most of what they have even as members of the Kingdom. For them, it’s a question of understanding priorities.
The fourth group tell of God’s patience as well as of a judgment at the end of time. As the first reading on July 19 makes clear, God is lenient and clement. Unlike plants, which can’t change in midlife to another species, humans can repent and go from being “weeds” to “wheat.” That’s what God wants for all of us. Nevertheless, we are free. We can reject him. Jesus uses the image of fire to indicate how undesirable it is to end up as weeds or as what is bad from the net. I don’t think this has to be taken literally. More importantly, I think many people whom seem to be rejecting God are not rejecting the true God but an image which may come from a literalist reading of certain passages of the Bible (Atheists can be the most fundamentalist of fundamentalists.), or feel-good stories told to children about a god who always protects us from harm which most adults learn to treat as fables, or scare stories of an angry god designed to keep people on the straight and narrow.
After all the parables, there is a final comment that “every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” Perhaps the wisdom of Solomon (see first reading for July 26) is needed to know which to bring out when, but Jesus insisted he was fulfilling te Law, not abolishing it. Christians retained the Old Testament, and after 2,000 years we have retained the New as well. We also look to many writings of those who have lived and worked since the time of Jesus. But the Church is not static. We are always adapting to changing times and cultures as we attempt to present the word of God to people everywhere.