There is the familiar saying that one should not judge a book by its cover. There are many possible ways to arrange books in a library. One could line them all up according to height, shortest way over to the left and gradually size them up going to the right. That would look quite controlled and perhaps balanced. Or one could start with the smallest on the left with the tallest in the middle and then degraduate to the right. Symmetrical confusion!
Color of cover or width of the volume could be a way of creating some kind of order, but end up with frustrating the searcher. Judging is what we are all quite good at; what and how we judge is good and another important question.
Those of us who live from one Eucharistic celebration toward the next are challenged by the Sacred Presence to suspend what we are good at, judging. The real challenge is to know when that powerful faculty is to be fruitfully used and when to allow receptivity to be the powerful faculty. It is a good exercise of spirit and discernment to catch ourselves within the tension of judging the value of something or the character of a person and just receiving. We are so good at evaluating and creating the illusion of control, but doing so can usually create more chaos than order, more frustration than tranquility. we can pray with the events of this tension where we want to think we know enough to judge accurately when we really do not. There just might be more peace even within the lack of symmetry and balance.
The context for our First Reading for this liturgy is the wondering at God’s great kindness toward the people of Canaan who were the early inhabitants of the land of Israel. The first twelve verses which precede our reading are delightful to read. The Canaanites, as related to us in those verses, were just terrible. They were godless, violent and disobedient. God cared for them. “Even so, since they were men, you treated them leniently “God hated them for their loathsome practices, their deeds of sorcery and unholy rites.
What we hear is a song or poem praising God for the fidelity God has toward all creation. There is “might” and “power” in God, but it is exercised in “clemency”. The Book of Wisdom is full of the sacredness of God’s ways as experienced in the sacred time or history of Israel. The author or authors spin history a bit to celebrate their own Jewish and national identity as the special people of God.
The real spirit of this reading is that as God was so lenient with the ancestors who were rebellious and defiant, how much more is this same eternal god going to be kind to the people of Israel? So it is historical and present-day. It is a proclamation of faith and hope. God is going to give the people of Israel lots of sacred time for repentance and return.
We hear three more parables in the gospel for today. Jesus is offering them to His disciples and the crowd on the shore while He is in a boat. They have heard the parable of the sower and the disciples came to ask Him its true meaning. Now we hear about the weeds being planted in the field with the wheat and the shorter ones about the mustard seed and then the one about leaven being mixed into the dough. Lots more of explaining to do for the disciples and ourselves.
The bigger question is about the phrase, “Kingdom of heaven.” The Jewish people were dominated by the Romans and so were a section of the kingdom of a godless people in their own “holy land.” They were waiting for a leader, a military force to drive the “Evil empire” out. “Kingdom” was a nervous word for the listeners to Jesus. They were hoping that Jesus might be the power of God and bring about their freedom. A “kingdom of heaven” would sound very attractive and so Matthew uses these parables to get their attention. Some would have ears to hear, but not hear what they wanted to hear. Those who could hear were the few, the little, whom are known as the disciples. It is to them and to us now that these parables are addressed for our instruction and comfort.
The first parable about the weeds gets a long and detailed explanation at the end of the Gospel for today. Perhaps the wheat, or fruitfulness is the group of disciples and the weeds are those who do not want to hear about the “kingdom of heaven.”
The two shorter parables then are about how the little, (mustard seed and leaven) does and will grow and change. The faith of the few will grow into a “kingdom” of strength, fertility and abundance. The change or growing will be slow, but sure if they buy into the contrast between the two kinds of kingdoms.
The “kingdom of heaven” is not a place, but an attitude of where one places ones trust. The Romans and many of the Jews of that time put their hope in military oppressive presence. Jesus is inviting His disciples to live in the freedom of His ways. These words or teachings are small, but not oppressive. They begin with little understanding, but if cultivated, such as bread dough, it matures and brings forth branches and nourishment for others and within others.
The “Kingdom of heaven” or more simply, the ways of Jesus, do not demand immediate understanding. We get tempted to disbelief, because we so easily say in times of tragedy or sorrow, “I just don’t understand.” This is so true, because we think we should be able to grasp and explain everything. The disciples did not and they came to Jesus for clarification. I am not sure they all liked what they heard. I know I don’t always like the ways and teachings of Jesus. Maybe it is because I get choked up on the weeds of arrogance while the wheat of faith is not so attractive or affirming.
The Lord keeps in our minds the wonderful things He has done. He is compassion and love. Ps. 111, 4-5
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook