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

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Day of Parables (Matthew 13): 3

Weekday Mass, Wednesday week 17

Matthew 13:44-46

Matthew chapter 13 is sometimes called the “day of parables” because Jesus teaches a whole series of parables to the crowd in one go. In the Mass lectionary, however, we’ve been listening to them in bite size chunks over the past week.

In the parables that Jesus has already taught we have been presented with the scandal of choice: are we going to accept the word that Jesus is teaching, the word of the Kingdom of Heaven, or not? That choice is presented to us in many ways in the different parables, but always the effect of the parable is to bring us up against the choice. The teaching of Jesus is either a scandal and an obstacle, or it is the key to the Kingdom of Heaven, but we can’t reserve our judgement or have it both ways.

Today’s parables are very short, and simply present us with the act of choosing something. In both cases the Kingdom of Heaven is described as something happening, an action taking place. It is like someone finding a hidden treasure in a field and buying the field. It is like someone searching for fine pearls who finds one pearl of great value and sells everything else to but that one.

So the Kingdom of Heaven is like someone searching and finding something of great value, and giving up everything else to choose that one thing. It’s not the treasure or the pearl themselves which are like the Kingdom of Heaven, but the act of choosing them.

After all the parables which confront us with the choice of accepting or rejecting Jesus and his teaching, Jesus shows us what the choice for the Kingdom is actually like. It is something supremely joyful, rewarding beyond anything else. Something so wonderful and precious that we will joyfully give up everything else that we might lay claim to, in order to choose that one thing.

Of course the parables don’t tell us what the Kingdom of Heaven actually is. That is beyond factual description. The parables don’t give us knowledge in the sense of facts at all. Rather, they open our perception and understanding. They give us a new way of seeing, in which we see the Divine ground of everything that exists, including ourselves. That can’t be described. But it is like someone discovering and choosing, wholeheartedly, one wonderful thing.

And the people in today’s parables make that choice because they suddenly “get it”. One is searching for fine pearls, the other happens on a buried treasure by accident. Sometimes, after long periods of searching, God surprises us with unexpected moments of illumination. There’s a story of a hermit on Mount Athos, the monastic centre in Greece, who spent years in his hermitage on a mountain fasting and praying and practicing austerities in his search for union with God. And then one day after a shower of rain he looked out of his cell and saw God in a puddle of water.

Sometimes God catches up with us without us even looking. As that great spiritual master Winnie the Pooh teaches us, “Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”

God gives different vocations and gifts. What finding the Kingdom of God is like for each one of us is going to be different. For some who are called to the religious life it is literally giving up everything to embrace a life of voluntary poverty. For Father Edward Penfold it was serving God and his people here as the first parish priest. For us it may be something we don’t yet know and just catch in glimpses and hints now and again. But if we choose to follow Jesus and his teaching, if we wait on God faithfully, we will find his Kingdom. God will surprise us with joy in those moments of seeing the Divine ground of everything that exists, of suddenly knowing everything there is to be known.

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