Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Day of Parables (Matthew 13): 2

Weekday Mass, Tuesday week 17

Matthew 13:36-43

The lectionary at weekday Mass has been taking us through Matthew’s Gospel in quite small chunks. What we’ve just heard is part of chapter 13 which we have been reading for a week now, and we’re still haven’t got to the end of it.

Chapter 13 of Matthew is a chapter of parables, and parables are puzzling things. Jesus teaches the crowds in short stories which almost always have something odd about them. They are apparently everyday scenes in which strange things happen. They have unexpected twists and turns which challenge our understanding. This is especially the case when different parables follow each other as they do in chapter 13. You think you’ve grasped the meaning of one parable and then go on the next and find you’ve lost it again. We rather miss this effect with the way the lectionary breaks up chapter 13 into individual parables.

So, today Jesus gives us the explanation of the parable of the wheat and the darnel: a farmer has sown wheat in his field and his enemy has come along and sown darnel, which is a weed, mixed in with the wheat. You might think from this that the previous passage would be the parable of the wheat and darnel itself, but it isn’t. There’s another section in between, in which there’s a different parable, the parable of the mustard seed.

That parable tells of a land owner who sowed a mustard seed in his field, which grew and became a great tree, the tree of the kingdom of heaven. But the twist is that mustard is a weed as well. The mustard that grows in Palestine is not the one we’re familiar with. It’s a sort of straggly shrub which grows quickly and spreads everywhere, and is completely useless. So what this person does is incomprehensible. He sows a weed in his own field which is going to take over and prevent him growing anything useful, and yet that weed becomes the tree of the kingdom of heaven.

So today’s story, in which weeds are the subjects of the evil one, and things that “provoke offence”, follows on from another parable in which weeds represents the Kingdom of Heaven. How come?

The word “offence” is perhaps a key to this. In Greek this is skandala, scandal, and that word occurs in three of the parables in Matthew 13. It signifies a stumbling block, an obstacle, a trap, something which prevents you getting any further.

It’s a key idea that runs through the New Testament. The great scandal of the gospels is the man on the cross. Someone who ended up crucified, rejected and alone, is claimed to be the Messiah, the anointed of God, the Lord and Saviour of the world. To any way of thinking judged normal by the world that is a huge offence.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

Christ is the corner stone for those who believe, as well as being a stumbling block for those who don’t. The parables draw us into these two ways of approaching Christ. Are we going to find in him an obstacle, or the way, the truth and the life? Do we see in him just a useless weed, something rejected? Or is he the wheat of the God and the bread of life?

In our walk with Jesus, which is renewed and refreshed once again in this Eucharist, we grow in grace and understanding. If we seek to draw closer to him our minds will be daily enlightened and we will be built more and more firmly on the foundation, the corner stone, which is Christ, the power and wisdom of God.

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