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

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Sermon at Parish Mass Trinity 7 2017

1 Kings 3.5-12
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13.31-33,44-52

This is our third week of parables; but in fact it is the last part of a series of parables that Jesus teaches in one day in Matthew’s Gospel. Taken all together, the parables form a course of teaching that draws us into the deep meaning of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the previous parables we have learned how not to think, the ways in which our perception is skewed and needs to be transformed in the light of the Kingdom. The Parable of the Sower taught us that life is not limited by death, the resurrection enables us to live with the limitless generosity and hope of Jesus. The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds warned us against a dualistic mind-set, dividing humanity into “us” and “them”.
To enter the kingdom of Heaven, we have to let go of our previous misunderstandings, to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” as St Paul says (Romans 12.2). It is only when we have left behind an imagination bounded by death and dualistic thinking that we can begin to grasp what the Kingdom might be.
The mustard seed is a weed that nobody would choose to plant, in fact it was not kosher to sow it among your crops – but that useless weed becomes the Tree of the Kingdom that shelters all. The weed that is cast out is Jesus – a scandal to a dualistic mind-set, but the secret of the Kingdom to those who believe. Jesus is the Kingdom in person – human nature perfectly united with Divine nature in one person, and therefore enacting God’s rule in his life.
We have learned from the parables not to think about “us” and “them” in terms of our fellow human beings. In Jesus, the ultimate dualism is broken down, that which divides God from humanity. The Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus in person, God and humanity can no longer be spoken of as “us” and “him”; there are no longer two, but one.
Like the yeast in the dough, the union of God and humanity in one person is a seemingly small and invisible thing that acts on and transforms everything. The Church – the disciples of Jesus – becomes the dough leavened all through, participating in the union of God and humanity by the grace that works in secret.
Then follow the two little jewels of parables, one sentence each: the treasure hidden in the field, and the pearl of great price. And here we come to the heart of the teaching of the Kingdom.
First of all, note that the Kingdom is something happening. It is not a treasure hidden in a field, or a pearl of great price. It is like someone finding these things. The Kingdom of God is not a still-life picture, but something active and dynamic, an act of discovery and revelation.
We can come across it in different ways. The treasure in the field is something found, seemingly, by accident. Someone just came across it without looking for it. But that discovery changes everything. He sold everything that he had to buy the field.
The pearl, on the other hand, is something that a merchant has been looking for all his life. And this discovery, too, changes everything. He was in search of fine pearls; now, to gain just this one, he sells all that he had.
The Kingdom of God is the discovery that just one thing is worth giving up everything else. What is that one thing? It is the weed that becomes the tree of the Kingdom, the yeast that leavens the whole dough. It is the union of God and humanity, made real in Jesus, the Divine and human in one person, a union extended by grace to all who believe.
The Christian tradition insists that union with God surpasses anything we can comprehend. God is beyond our understanding. We cannot know him by intellectual knowledge, but we can know him by the knowledge of the heart, by love. The way of union passes through the Cloud of Unknowing, forgetting what lies behind and reaching out to that which is before, so that we can know God by love, in the union of the heart. This is exactly the path that the parables trace. The path to union is prepared for us in Jesus Christ, and we enter through our adoption in him, by faith and grace.
But the Kingdom of Heaven is not, of course, individualistic fulfilment. We do not vanish into vague self-absorbed navel-gazing. Quite the opposite. The Kingdom is a society, it is in fact human society as it was meant to be, living out God’s rule because it is living in perfect union with God in Christ. The values of the Kingdom: good news for the poor, the binding up of the broken hearted, setting the captive free, all these are rooted in and flow from the union of God and humanity which is already established in Jesus, and in which we come to share by grace.
The scribes trained for the Kingdom bring out of their treasure what is new and what is old. The discovery of the Kingdom is rooted in the tradition we have received, the scriptures, the law and the prophets. All spoke of it; all proclaimed its values. We have to know the tradition and live it well, in order to inherit the kingdom. But we also have to move beyond, to what we had never guessed. In Jesus, the Kingdom is made real, and its secret heart, the union of God and humanity, is opened to all, a wonderful and unlooked for discovery, the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price.
“Have you understood all this?”, ask Jesus today. The parable of the good fish and the bad, with which Matthew’s gospel ends this day of parables, is a test of that. Have you got the point that the parables have been exposing to us the ways in which we do not understand? Union with God, the secret of the Kingdom, cannot be attained by intellectual knowledge, but only by love; and Jesus opens the heart of that love for us to enter in.
Then, we will be ready for those moments of discovery and recognition that are God’s gift to us as we follow in his way and leave our illusions behind.
Like the merchant who spent his life searching for fine pearls, it can take time and persistence. 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. 
On the other hand, like the treasure hidden in a field, sometimes God catches up with us without us even knowing that we were looking. As that great spiritual master of the 20th Century, Winnie the Pooh, put it, “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.”

The parables teach us to be like scribes trained for the Kingdom, rooted in the treasures that are old, the tradition of the scriptures, the law and the prophets, living them well, being transformed by the renewing of our minds. Because that way we will be watchful and ready for the new treasure, the pearl of great price, the secret of the Kingdom in Jesus Christ our Lord.

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