The key, for the person of faith, is to not only to choose for the Kingdom in a particular circumstance but to also develop the ingrained habit/discipline of choosing for the Kingdom. I think that our choices are at the heart of the images that our Lord gives us regarding our relation to the kingdom of heaven in this Sunday’s gospel (Mt. 13:44-52).
Yes, we are free to make our choices but no one of us is free to deny the consequences of our choices. We like the first part but we often do our best, individually and collectively, to deny the reality of the second half. But all choices have consequences whether for good or for ill, whether immediate or some time “down the road”. No person can escape the consequences of his or her actions.
Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a “treasure buried in a field” which, when once found, a person then sells all that he has in order to buy the field. Or the kingdom is like a fine pearl which, again, a person goes and sells all that he has in order to buy it. In both of these images the person makes a radical and extreme choice. They sell everything, they let go off everything in order to acquire this one treasure! Nothing is more important. Reputation, security, wealth, relationships, advancement – they just don’t compare. They do not matter in light of this one great treasure!
This is the choice for the Kingdom of God and there are consequences.
…the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea … what is good (goes into buckets). What is bad is thrown away. Thus it will be at the end of the age.
All choices have consequences. When we make the choice for the Kingdom, for God, for what is right – even if in the most trying of circumstances, even if not applauded but derided, even if in the face of persecution – we gain life. The life of the Kingdom of God grows within us.
In our first reading (1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12) Solomon was also faced with a choice. God says to the young king, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon could have asked for anything and God knows this. Solomon, aware of his role as a young king, asks, “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and distinguish right from wrong.” Solomon is blessed in his choice because he made a choice for the Kingdom of God. He did not choose for himself – to build up his ego, his wealth or his power – rather, he made a choice for others – he asked for wisdom that he might serve and govern God’s people well and justly. In so doing, Solomon mirrored the reality of God who is love who pours himself out for all of his creation and Solomon was blessed. Life grew within him.
Yes, we are free to make our choices but no one of us is free to deny the consequences of our choices. Our choices can help, our choices can heal! Our Lord invites us to continually, in all situations and seasons, make the choice for the kingdom – that we might be blessed and have life within us and that his kingdom might continually grow in order to heal the pains and wounds of our world.
The Lord was pleased with Solomon’s request and said to him, “Because you have asked for this – not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you might know what is right – I do as you requested.”
This last week I read a book entitled, Tobit’s Dog written by Michael N. Richard. The book is a retelling of the Book of Tobit set in the segregated South of the Depression era. The Book of Tobit (not found in Protestant Bibles) is, in many ways, a reflection on sin, suffering and the question of why troubles come upon us. Even if one does not go looking for trouble it seems that troubles will often come looking for us in life. Why is this? One thing that the Book of Tobit reveals is that even though God does not send troubles our way; God is willing to aid and help us learn from the troubles that we do encounter in life.
At one point in the story the young Tobias is wondering about these matters while he and the archangel Raphael (going by the name “Ace Redbone” – a travelling musician) are on journey. At this point, Ace offers some wise advice, “Tobias, life will have no happily ever after until that day when Heaven merges completely with the created world around us.”
In this Sunday’s gospel (Mt. 13:24-43), our Lord gives us three images of the Kingdom of God – the grain growing alongside the weeds, the growing mustard seed and the active yeast. What is helpful is recognizing that all of these three images are in process, they are active. We are on journey toward the Kingdom of God, we are not there yet, and not only that but all creation is also on journey toward the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Last Sunday, in his Letter to the Romans (Rom. 8:18-23) St. Paul wrote, I consider that the sufferings of the present life cannot be compared with the Glory that will be revealed and given to us. All creation is eagerly expecting the birth in glory of the children of God. The resurrection, the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God is active; it is transforming us and all of creation also!
“Tobias, life will have no happily ever after until that day when Heaven merges completely with the created world around us.”
We are on journey. In this life there will be no ultimate “happily ever after” no matter the messages we are sold. There will be troubles but we can learn from the troubles of life and we can praise God even in the midst of them. One truth to be gained from the parable of the grain and weeds, I believe, is that we should not be frightened by the fact that an evil plant grows rather, what truly counts on our part, is to make the good plant grow as much as possible.
If we, in our lifetime, can help to make the Kingdom of God grow even to the smallest fraction then we have done well.
God is bringing about his Kingdom. We are on journey.
In today’s Gospel (Mt. 13:1-23), the disciples ask the Lord why he speaks to the people in parables. It is a fair question and one that can help us get at the heart of what a parable is meant to be about and meant to do. A parable is not a set of engineering manuals which yield precise directions and formulations once we figure out the proper “code”. Rather, a parable is better viewed as an invitation to a grand feast. It is an entrance into which we are called to enter and it is then in the context of this “feast” that life is found – we encounter others, relationships are born or nourished and all of a sudden there are new insights or possibilities gained that we could never have predicted. A parable is a living reality that we are meant to enter into, move about and even sit within, which then brings us insight into how to live Christian discipleship more deeply and truly. A parable does not need to explain itself and neither are we meant to pry and wring truths out of parables by our own effort. Parables speak. We are to listen.
Through this Sunday’s parable of the sower and the seed our Lord is inviting us into the mystery of encounter with himself (which occurs according to our Lord’s own generosity) and the mystery of keeping our hearts open and cultivated because we know neither the time nor the hour.
Our gospel parable might be fleshed out more by the use of another parable – a commercial put out a while back by Catholic Charities in the Philippines. In the commercial a businessman enters into a crowded subway. He is hurrying to work and is carrying his sack lunch for the day. He notices a homeless man sitting on the ground in a corner of the station. The man is dirty and obviously in need. At first the businessman makes to walk past him but then he stops, walks over the homeless man and gives him his lunch.
Now, a second scene – the next day – once more the businessman enters the station carrying his lunch. Again, he sees the homeless man. He tries to walk by but his conscience will not allow him. He heads over and gives the man his lunch but things change and instead of seeing the face of the homeless man the businessman sees the face of Christ.
A third scene – this time from the viewpoint of the homeless man sitting in the station. We see the businessman coming forward to give his lunch but now it is the businessman’s face that changes and in its place the homeless man sees the face of Christ.
In both the commercial and the parable we are invited into the great feast of Christian giving and receiving and encountering Christ within that living dynamic.
It has been pointed out that an aspect of the parable of the sower and the seed is the almost remarkable carelessness of the sower. This is not a farmer who has to have perfect soil for his supply of seeds!
Without saying it, Jesus is comparing the sower to himself. His generosity in sowing seeds is entirely his, not ours. The sower does not calculate nor measure his generosity … there is no part of the soil that he does not consider worthy of attention. (Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia)
At the heart of the mystery of encountering Christ and experiencing the Kingdom is a gratuitousness that can neither be programmed nor predicted on our part. The generosity is God’s and not ours. One factor of note though in this mystery is the condition of the inner terrain of our hearts and the need of being “good soil”. This is important as the parable teaches us that the sower can sow at any time and in any circumstance – from a church pew on Sunday to a busy subway station during the week. The generosity is God’s and not our own.
The power of the Catholic Charities commercial is that it does not need to explain anything. It just portrays a moment and it that moment the man’s heart was good soil. He made a decision and in that decision the Kingdom was able to break through and each recognized the face of Christ in the other.
God’s generosity is sowing seeds is entirely his, not ours.