SIRACH 27:30-28:7 | ROMANS 14:7-9 | MATTHEW 18:21-35
“Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?”
These words of wisdom were written 200 years before the birth of Jesus by the sage, Sirach. Sounds like the teaching Jesus delivered. “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” It sounds, too, like the prayer Jesus taught us. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
In the gospel passage today, Jesus answered a question Peter asked about the number of times we’re obliged to forgive our neighbor by spinning a lengthy parable about a servant who owed a huge amount of money to his master the king. After listening to his plea for leniency, the king wrote off his entire debt. Everybody knew that the king symbolized God, the great King. They understood that Jesus was teaching them that God’s compassion and forgiveness were radical and boundless. But….the parable went on.
That same servant left the glow of the King’s chamber and bumped into a fellow servant who
owed him a pittance. He beat him and had him dragged to prison because he couldn’t repay the little he owed. I don’t know any Hebrew curses but I’ll bet you that a bunch of them could be heard mumbled throughout the crowd describing the merciless servant. But justice was eventually served when the King heard of the incident and handed his servant to the torturers until he repaid his debt to the King. (I’m sure a cheer rose from the crowd.)
Jesus began the parable by saying, “the kingdom of God may be likened to…” In the kingdom everyone has to be like God – loving, merciful and, above all, forgiving.
Here we are, the followers of Jesus. We live in the world, but hope for the kingdom. We pray for its coming every day at the Eucharist, but the horrors of our many wars, the millions we’ve imprisoned, the burning political hostilities that plague us leave us angry and revengeful. Sometimes it seems we’re condemned to the torturers with the doors of the kingdom closed to us. We need to let go of resentment – to let compassion reign over justice – to free our hearts to forgive – to weep for our sins against each other – to heal our human family – to knock at the kingdom’s golden door – to kneel with Jesus and pray with him. “Father forgive them.”
EZEKIEL 33:7-9 | ROMANS 13:8-10 | MATTHEW 18:15-20
I love this passage because everything about it is wrong…and that’s important. The topic of Jesus’ discourse is forgiveness. Next Sunday we’ll be listening to Jesus’ parable about an unforgiving servant. Let’s cheat and take a quick look at that parable before we look at today’s passage.
A servant was forgiven a huge debt by the king to whom he was indebted. When the king learned that this same servant pounced on a fellow servant who owed him a pittance and had the man arrested, the king called him back and revoked his forgiveness. “Then, in anger, his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.” Jesus concluded the parable with a lesson. “So will my heavenly Father do to you unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” Let’s also link up this parable with Jesus’ answer to Simon Peter who had asked how many times he should forgive a brother, “Seventy times seven times!” Keep these thoughts in mind as we look at today’s passage.
Reading it, I feel like I’m in a class studying the legal procedures for excommunication. Step one: confront the person who has offended you. If you can’t reconcile move to step two: bring in two or three witnesses who are familiar with your case. If this doesn’t result in reconciliation move to step three: bring the case to the assembly of the Church. If this doesn’t work, take the ultimate step: excommunicate the brother, “and treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”
Now, what makes this passage even more challenging to interpret is that this is what the Jewish community did in Jesus’ day, and what our community, the Church, continues to do today. Procedures like these were exactly what Jesus fought against. Over and over again, Jesus taught the need for radical forgiveness forgiveness from the heart. As far as treating someone
who has offended me as a Gentile or a tax collector, nothing could be farther from what Jesus taught. He asked to eat with Zacchaeus, the tax collector, an act that meant he was in communion with him. He called Matthew, the tax collector, to be an apostle!
Jesus cured the son of the Roman centurion and commented that he had not seen such faith in Israel. He liberated the Canaanite woman’s daughter from demonic possession. Dramatically, he fed 4000 people, mostly Gentiles, in the area of the Decapolis. Jesus flagrantly broke the religious and cultural prejudice regarding tax collectors and Gentiles.
Jesus had no tolerance for the intolerant. But we see from this passage, written around 70 CE, that the old ways still held on in the early Christian community and even crept into the written Gospel.
I said that I loved this passage because everything in it is wrong. It’s wrong because it doesn’t reflect the Jesus we see in the rest of the New Testament. It’s wrong because it advances a juridical process to exclude people from the community of believers. This “insertion” into the Gospel of Matthew stands as a warning to us. The Gospel Jesus teaches is a gospel of inclusion. It’s challenging. It’s messy. It isn’t black and white. It brings together sinners and misfits, king and queens, saints and ordinary people all in various degrees of conversion. You and I, the Church, must recognize that, as followers of Jesus, we face a complex and continual challenge every day, inclusion.
None of us is a finished product. God has gathered us, unfinished products, to witness to a broken, unreconciled world that each of us is a beloved child of God, loved equally, loved with our imperfections. Our baptism has anointed us to preach the gospel of inclusion, and to struggle, day by day, with all that it implies.
JEREMIAH 20:7-9 | ROMANS 12:1-2 | MATTHEW 16:21-27
A short time ago Jesus had brought the apostles to the sacred district of Caesarea Philippi. There Simon made a profound, public profession of faith in Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus was exuberant. He even gave Simon a new name, Peter, a rock. He promised him the keys of the kingdom of God, and assured him that the powers of darkness would never prevail. What a moment that was! Peter and the other apostles left that district on a religious high.
Simon Peter’s profession revealed Jesus as the Messiah. The joy that the apostles felt ignited their fantasies of power and glory, the Messiah leading a march into Jerusalem riding a magnificent horse, and followed by a great army. He would ascend the throne of a liberated and independent Israel. It took but a moment for Jesus to dissolve their fantasies. “Jesus began to instruct his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and on the third day raised.”
The apostles were high on thoughts of power. Jesus’ prediction of his death threw them for a loop. Simon Peter, again the first to speak, rebuked him. “God forgive, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
Poor Simon Peter, his heart was in the right place. What a shock when Jesus, burning with anger and frustration, spat at him, “Get behind me, Satan!” It seemed like one minute he was joyfully changing Simon’s name and giving him the keys to the kingdom of God, and then suddenly,
he was calling him the king of tempters, Satan. He commanded him to step back into line, and begin “to think like God does, not like humans.” Simon Peter stood there, silent, embarrassed, confused.
Then Jesus turned to the rest of the apostles and hit them with a teaching that would take them a lifetime to digest. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
That was a mouthful, wasn’t it!? The disciples must have been speechless when they heard him. They were hoping to be princes in Jesus’ kingdom; what’s this about denying oneself? What did he mean that they needed to lose their lives in order to find life? Was he out of his mind challenging them to accept death on a cross?
The teaching coming from this scene is of utmost important for every disciple to contemplate, not only once, but every day. It’s the guide to the Christian way of life. Jesus is telling us, his beloved disciples, that we’re wrong if we think we’re alive. Our concept of life was a fantasy. Longing for power and fame are distractions. We discover true life by pouring out our lives in the service of others. Jesus is teaching us that we’ll have to liberate ourselves from our ego’s selfishness if we hope for real life – the life he’s offering us. Let’s conclude this reflection with the words Jesus spoke so many times. “Let those who have ears to hear, hear.”
ISAIAH 22:19-23 | ROMANS 11:33-36 | MATTHEW 16:33-36
We study an important moment in the life of Jesus and his disciples today. Time was getting short. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the final time; his death was near. He went out of his way to bring the disciples to a very special place separate from Jewish territory. He could have some peace and quiet there, away from the crowds. At Caesarea Philippi he could focus on his disciples and continue to instruct them.
Why did Jesus choose this particular place? It was a sacred place. There were many shrines to the ancient Syrian and Canaanite gods scattered throughout the area. There was a cave there with a deep well that Jews celebrated as the source of the sacred Jordan River. The Greeks believed that the god, Pan, was born in that cave. There was also a great white marble temple dedicated by Herod’s son, Phillip, to the emperor god, Caesar. Hence, the city was named Caesarea Philippi.
This site, revered by Greeks, Romans and Jews alike, focused the religious energy of the world. In this context, Jesus asked two most serious questions: “Who do people say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?”
They answered the first one easily. “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” In answer, the disciples pulled out the big guns. John the Baptist was executed by Herod, but he feared that Jesus may be John raised from the dead. Others thought that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Malachi that predicted the prophet Elijah’s return to prepare the world for the Day of the Lord, the time of global purification in preparation for the Messiah. Others thought that Jesus was Jeremiah returning to announce the liberation of the Jewish people. Many people viewed Jesus as a prophet. It had been 400 years since a prophet had spoken in Israel. Jesus’ message of the coming of the kingdom of God rang with hope. But Jesus was looking for a deeper answer his question. So, he asked, “Who do YOU say that I am?” Peter’s answer was immediate and unambiguous. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is what Jesus wanted to hear! He was on his final journey to Jerusalem; the cross was drawing near. How successful was his mission? Did anybody really understand who he was and what his mission was? People saw him as a holy man and a prophet. That was a start; but there was more, much more. In a flash of insight Peter got it. He saw Jesus – the anointed Messiah, but even more, he saw the son of God. This wasn’t only an observation; it was a profession of faith and, most importantly, by this profession, he became the first stone of the new edifice Jesus was constructing. “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Peter interpreted these words of Jesus for the early church in his first letter. “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5) Peter’s message is meant for us to hear, too. Sometimes we think of this passage as saying that Peter is the rock, the foundation that the church is built upon, but actually Peter is the first “rock” of the new edifice, the church. Many more “rocks” are needed to complete the building. Jesus will be the capstone, completing the structure. Remember Paul’s teaching: “You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred to the Lord; in him, you are being built together into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit.” (Ephesian 2:19-21) We’ve been called to the city of Caesarea Philippi today to be challenged by the most important question we can be asked. “Who do you say that I am?” Are you ready to be a “rock?”
ISAIAH 56:1, 6-7 | ROMANS 11:13-15, 29-32 | MATTHEW 15:21-28
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus leaves Palestine and withdraws to the region of Tyre and Sidon, Gentile territory. A Canaanite woman begins to follow him, calling out over and over again, “Have pity on me Lord, Son of David. My daughter is tormented by a demon.” It’s noteworthy that this pagan woman is addressing him as the Messiah, the Son of David! He ignores her, but she’s persistent! When the disciples ask Jesus to send her away he reminds them that he “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Having said that, he should have sent her away, but he didn’t. Instead, he tells her that, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” This sounds so unlike Jesus to us. But the word Jesus uses for dogs is playful, not insulting. A better translation would be doggies, tiny lap dogs! The woman picks up on his joke. “Please Lord, for even the doggies eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Impressed by the depth of her faith, he instantly cures her daughter.
In the society Jesus lived in, the world was clearly divided, “them and us.” This divide was dictated and enforced by the religious leadership. It’s clear that Jesus didn’t follow these traditions so engrained in his society. He traveled outside of Palestine, cured many Gentiles and even praised the depth of their faith as witnessed in the passage today. He regularly suffered attacks from the religious right for his position. Eventually, they had him executed.
Today, let’s think about the “them and us” phenomenon tragically deteriorating the ideals on which our country was founded. This scene with Jesus and the Canaanite woman compels each of us to question to what extent I might have bought into the them-and-us dynamic? What must I do to permit Jesus to begin healing this situation? How can I be part of the remedy?
Lord Jesus, Son of David, you healed the Roman Centurion’s slave,
the Samaritan leper, the Gerasene demonic.
You offered eternal life to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.
I beg you to heal my heart .
Cleanse the stains of racism and privilege from my mind and heart and soul.
Give me the strength to suffer as you suffered when you reached out to the foreigner and the outcast.
Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.
1 KINGS 19:9A, 11-13A | ROMANS 9:1-5 | MATTHEW 14:22-33
The fourteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, which we conclude today, is perhaps the most emotionally charged chapter outside of the Passion Narrative. Let me recap the progression of events beginning with the conclusion of chapter thirteen that ends with a sad and disturbing scene. Jesus is rejected by the people of his home town, Nazareth. They see his healings. They listen to his preaching. But because of their familiarity with Jesus and his family, they were strangely put off by him. They asked, “where did this man get all this?” In fact, their lack of faith in him was so deep that “he did not work mighty deeds there.”
Chapter fourteen immediately picks up and intensifies the darkness. It begins with Herod’s “profession of faith” in Jesus. This may seem like a contradiction, but think of the times demons address Jesus as the Son of God. It often seems that the powers of darkness acknowledge Jesus before the people he’s teaching and even before his disciples. Herod had been hearing of the mighty powers that were at work in Jesus. He came to the conclusion that Jesus must be John the Baptist risen from the dead.
Matthew immediately reminds us of the events of John’s death. We all know the story. Herodias, Herod’s present wife and ex-wife of his brother Philip, had been plotting to murder John because he publically condemned her and her marriage to Herod. She had already managed to get him arrested and imprisoned. But her real opportunity for revenge came at a banquet celebrating Herod’s birthday. Everybody was there, his military leaders and members of his political inner circle. We could easily conclude that Herod and his guests were drunk by the time Salome, Herodias’ daughter, performed a dance for the guests. She “delighted Herod so much that he swore to give her whatever she might ask for.” Herodias took advantage of the situation and prompted her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Fearing political embarrassment Herod granted her request. After the banquet John’s disciples asked for his body so that they might give him a proper burial. They then went and informed Jesus of his execution. “When Jesus heard of it, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”
It is no accident that Matthew places the account of John’s death in the very same chapter in which he gives the account of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. He’s clearly contrasting the love celebrated in the Eucharistic banquet of the kingdom of God with the depraved banquet in Herod’s earthly kingdom. The account of the multiplication of the loaves and fish implies that the disciples have the same power to feed the multitude. By his command, “Give them some food yourselves,” he’s reminding them that he came to serve and not to be served. To be his disciples and to celebrate the Eucharistic meal they need to follow his example of self-giving.
After the crowd of five thousand had eaten their fill Jesus sent his disciples off in a boat to the other side of the lake. He retreated into solitude again. Meanwhile, a storm blew up catching the disciples a few miles off shore. Their boat was being tossed about by strong winds. The disciples feared for their lives. It was the fourth watch of the night, between 3:00 AM and 6:00 AM. According to folk lore, it was the time when spirits and phantoms were returning to their graves after a night of wandering. Suddenly, they saw a figure walking on the water. They began to scream in horror – it was a dybbuk, a ghost!
A voice broke through the howling wind. “Take courage; it is I; do not be afraid.” Could
it be Jesus? Peter challenged the spirit. “Lord, if it is your command me to come to you on the water.” Peter stepped out of the boat and miraculously stood on the water, but he gave into his fear and began to sink screaming out, “Lord, save me!” Without any hesitation Jesus reached out to him. The two of them stepped into the boat. The wind subsided. The storm passed. Everyone was safe.
Jesus’ comment to them was part admonition, part disappointment. He had entered the storm with them. He responded immediately to Peter’s plea for help. Yet, they still didn’t grasp who he was. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” There’s sadness in his question. The people of Nazareth had outright rejected him. In spite of the miracle of the loaves and fish the disciples had still not put their faith in him.
They continued crossing the lake and came to Gennesaret, a predominately Gentile area. Word got out that Jesus was there. People brought their sick to him to be healed. Their faith was great. They believed that if they merely touched the tassels on his cloak they would be healed. Matthew concludes the chapter by testifying that whoever did touch him was cured.
As I said in the introduction to this reflection there’s a great deal of sadness surrounding Jesus. He’s rejected by friends and family in Nazareth. He’s mourning the death of John the Baptist. He feels pity for the crowds when they come to him for healing. He’s saddened by the disciples’ lack of faith.
The chapter also presents contrasts. Herod’s diabolical banquet is set against the scene of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, an icon of the Eucharistic meal in the kingdom of God. The rejection Jesus experienced from the people of Nazareth is contrasted with the deep faith of the Gentiles in Gennesaret.
The storm at sea focuses this chapter. Jesus suffered in this life not only on the cross, but through the rejection of friends, relatives, political and religious figures and even his disciples. His suffering, rather than separating him from the world, created a bond with the suffering human family. There will be ups and downs. There will be storms, sometimes terrifying storms, but he will walk with us. He’ll reach out his hand to each of us. We should never be afraid to cry out in faith, “Save me, Lord!” Maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to walk on the water with him.
DANIEL 7:9-10, 13-14 | 2 PETER 1:16-19 | MATTHEW 17:1-9
We’re presented with one of the most important scenes in the New Testament for our reflection today, the transfiguration of Jesus. Let’s put the scene into a context before we delve into its significance.
Six days earlier Jesus had led his disciples to the city of Caesarea Philippi, a place sacred to Jews and Gentiles. There he asked them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The answers varied. They said that some people believed that the Son of Man was the prophet Elijah, others, John the Baptist or another one of the prophets. Jesus pushed them, asking more specifically: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter immediately declared, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then told Peter that he was to be the rock upon which he would build his Church. Then, to the amazement of the disciples, Jesus made the first prediction of his passion.
Then, the little group traveled for six days. As he often did, Jesus took them to a hilltop to pray. This time he split the group. He took Peter, James and John with him to a higher elevation. There, they witnessed something they would never forget. These three Jewish men experienced the entire history of the Jewish people.
By leading them to the mountain top Jesus was reenacting Moses’ climb to Mount Sinai to receive the Law from God, the document that would forever bind God to the Jewish people. He was also reenacting Elijah’s climb to Mount Horeb where he experienced God in the sound of a still, small voice.
When they got to the top of the mountain Jesus’ face and clothing began to shine with the blinding radiance of God’s glory. Peering into the light of that glory, they saw Jesus speaking with Moses the law-giver, and Elijah the most revered of the Jewish prophets. Then a cloud came. But it wasn’t an ordinary cloud that occasionally de- scends upon a mountaintop; it was the shechinah, the cloud of fire that led the Jewish people through the desert, and the cloud of God’s glory that descended on Mount Sinai, and on the meeting tent, and on the ark of the covenant. From within the cloud they heard the voice of the Father. They collapsed in fear. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
From this moment on, Jesus will be making his way to Jerusalem where he will suffer and die. This moment on the mountain has sealed and blessed his mission. We’re told in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus was speaking with Moses and Elijah about his Exodus, his Passover from this world to the Father. His prayer on that mountain top was asking for clarity. Was he to continue to Jerusalem? Was death and resurrection his Father’s will for him? The events on that mountaintop anointed the final steps of his mission. He had taught his disciples the mysteries of the kingdom. He had accepted his anointing as the Lamb of God whose blood will take away the sin of the world.
The transfiguration prepared Jesus to complete his mission. He was ready to proceed to Jerusalem. The disciples will follow him to Jerusalem but they still have to interiorize what they experienced on the mountain. Soon, they’ll witness his death and resurrection. They’ll be anointed by the Spirit. They’ll become light for the world and salt for the earth. They’ll continue his mission in the world.
1 KINGS 3:5, 7-12 | ROMANS 8:28-30 | MATTHEW 13:44-46
We’re concluding our reading of the 13th chapter of Matthew’s gospel today which consists of a string of seven parables each imaging the kingdom of God. This week we’re reflecting on the last three in the series. Let’s get right into them.
1.“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and goes out and sells all that he has and buys that field.” It has been a long time since I’ve had the pleasure of lounging on the beach. But I remember, from the olden days, seeing beachcombers wandering along the beach with electronic metal detectors. They were looking for things like lost wedding rings or gold earrings – anything of value.
Well, in Palestine, at the time of Jesus, it was not unheard of that someone found a real treasure buried in a field. Palestine was in itself an unimportant country on the coast of the Mediterranean. Because of its geography it suffered, but survived, countless invasions.
The powerful countries of the north and the west like Assyria, Mesopotamia, Persia and Egypt frequently engaged in wars among themselves and other smaller countries. The main roads that connected these countries snaked through Palestine. So, it was common for families to flee the advancing armies with the hope of returning after the armies marched through. Families would sometime bury their valuables before fleeing. Sadly, some of them never returned. Like today’s beachcombers there were always people who wandered around looking for a dent in the soil that might signal a buried treasure. From this common phenomenon Jesus spun his parable.
(Focus Thought) Many of us carry the hope of discovering a treasure and, with it, a new life. Are you searching for a treasure, temporal or spiritual? What do you think about letting go of everything you value in order to buy the field with the buried treasure? What are your thoughts and feelings about letting go of the things you value?
2. “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that pearl.” In the Roman Empire, and throughout the Middle East, pearls were highly valued because of their delicate beauty. They came from the sea which was considered the source of all life and therefore had a mystical quality. Pearls aren’t like gold or silver that’s mined from the earth and must go through a series of processes to become the valued coin or the piece of jewelry. A pearl is beauty itself.
(Focus Thought) Are you searching for a deeper meaning to your life? What is the pearl that, if you possessed it, would put your soul to rest? Take special note of your feelings as you think about the meaning of this parable.
3. The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into baskets. What is bad they will throw away. Hmmmm. This sound a little bit like last week’s parable of the wheat and the weeds. They grew together only to be separated at harvest time. Here the image is more aggressive. Fisherman cast their nets when they see the water moving, bubbling in a way, because a school of fish is swimming just below the surface. With strength and precision, the nets are cast over the school and immediately yanked back to the boats to catch as many fish as possible. After the haul, the catch is separated. The fish are kept. What’s unwanted is thrown back into the sea.
(Focus Thought) Have you ever experienced the excitement of hope? I’m thinking of a song from West Side Story that poetically catches that excitement: Something’s Coming. “Could be, who knows? There’s something due any day I will know right away soon as it shows. It many come cannonballing down through the sky, gleam in its eye, bright as a rose. Who knows?” What are you hoping for? What’s just under the surface? You can almost see it. You can almost reach out and touch it. You’re not sure what it is – but you know – it’s there. Don’t be afraid to think about this. It can bring up feeling. Don’t be afraid of thoughts that seem illogical or off the topic. Respect every thought and feeling. Don’t be afraid to cast the net out onto the unknown.
Matthew concludes this chapter of parables with an important maxim. “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.”
Through the Focus Thoughts we’ve been looking inside ourselves. These parables are symbolic maps meant to guide us as we travel the inner path. Our fears, hopes, dreams and even our style of living are the things that can inhibit or help our spiritual development. This is what Jesus refers to as “the old.” When we recognize them, we can be more prepared to begin a new way of living – a spirit filled way of living. This is the foundation of new life in the kingdom of heaven.
WISDOM 12:13, 1619 | ROMANS 8:26-27 | MATTHEW 13:24-43
Today we’re thinking about the kingdom of heaven, the central theme of Jesus’ ministry. Sometimes, as in the passage we’re reading today, Jesus spins a parable that delivers an impression of the kingdom. What makes the kingdom difficult to describe is that it’s not a concept; it’s also, and primarily, an experience. As we walk the Christian journey, the kingdom will intersect our lives. Sometimes it may come as a flash of lucidity – but a definition may elude us. Sometimes it may not be a thought at all, but a feeling – a deep, down in the heart experience that’s difficult to describe I wish I could share with you a precise definition of the kingdom, but I can’t. What I can do, however, is focus the images Jesus uses to describe it. From that point on, I will leave it to you to form your own idea of the kingdom. There are three images of the kingdom in the gospel today. The first is a field of wheat that has lots of weeds. In the story the landowner declares that an enemy has planted these weeds. He can’t pull the weeds up because he’ll pull the wheat up along with it. So, he’ll let them grow together and separate them at harvest time. (Focus thought) There’s tension built into the story; an enemy has planted the weeds. It seems there’s opposition to the flourishing of the kingdom. What does this image teach us about the dynamics of the kingdom? The second image is that of a tiny mustard seed that grows into a tree. (Focus thought) What power is hidden in that tiny seed that transforms it into a tree? Power that manifests the energy of the kingdom in our midst? How? The third image is a lump of yeast that mixes with flour. (Focus thought) When yeast is mixed into flour, there is no longer yeast nor flour – combined, they become dough. What can this teach us about the kingdom? These little parables are meant to be pondered and prayed over. Let your heart guide your thoughts. Feel free to let your mind wander about with these images. All kind of ideas might surface. Respect them. As you reflect don’t ignore your feelings; they’re connected to the heart. We want our reflections to be thoughtful and personal – heartfelt. The Spirit works through the heart as well as the intellect. While reflecting, keep in mind what Jesus taught us: “The kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:21)
ISAIAH 55:10-11 | ROMANS 8:18-23 | MATTHEW 13:1-9
The message Isaiah delivers to us today, and the parable Jesus spins, need to be stamped in our minds and hearts. They remind us that God’s word is always productive, whether it comes to us like gentle rain or like seeds tossed over the soil. We’re reminded that God is always reaching out to us. God is continually communicating with us. God is never silence.
We’re reminded, too, that we often don’t hear God’s word. Sometimes we’re only ready to hear a part of the message, or we hear it and then forget it. The parable of the sower presents the various ways we might miss hearing God’s word, ignoring it, not taking the time and effort to come to understand its meaning for our lives, or being so distracted by the lives we lead, that we don’t even realize that God’s speaking to us. Today’s message is clear: stop, be quiet, listen. God is speaking to you.
There’s an additional teaching in today’s scripture that we shouldn’t overlook. We’re disciples of Jesus, and so we’ve committed ourselves, like he did, to share the word of God. What we’ve heard, what we’ve understood, what we’ve integrated into our lives must be shared. Don’t forget what Jesus told his disciples as he sent them out on their mission. “Make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of God is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”
We’re open to the word of God. We listen for it; we take it to heart. But we’re also asked to share what we’ve heard. We do this by the example of our lives, by the advice and guidance we give, by preaching in whatever way we might preach. Sometimes we’ll be heard but not understood. Sometimes we’ll be ignored. Sometimes the word we share will touch a heart, and that word will yield “a hundred or sixty, or thirtyfold.”