Today we conclude a three-week series of readings from the thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel. This chapter is jam-packed with parables and their explanations. The section today has three short parables drawn from ordinary life – a treasure that is hidden in a field; a fine and valuable pearl that is found by a merchant, and a dragnet that gathers fish of every kind. Jesus concludes the section by praising the steward who brings out of the storeroom both new things and old things.
The chapter lies at the very centre of this Gospel, and it seems that we are being invited to be the scribes who draw out of our storeroom things both new and old. The new things are this brand new and magnificent vision that the kingdom of heaven is bringing; the old things are the centuries-old wisdom of the ages and the witness of the people of Israel and her stories and hopes. The way of the Gospel is about planting the new deep down within the old and allowing the ancient wisdom to come to fresh and exciting expressions in the new.
The shape of Matthew’s gospel is meant to remind the careful reader of the first five books of the Bible – the Torah, or the Books of Moses. The content, however, that Matthew gives us in this gospel is new and explosive. There is a decision that must be made urgently. It was fashionable then, as it remains fashionable now, to imagine that there were many different pearls or many kinds of treasures that you could collect in the various religions that are on offer. But Jesus says no – there is only one pearl and one treasure, which is the Gospel of the kingdom of God which Jesus was declaring and living out.
Besides all this Jesus declares that the world is not just going around in circles – but it has a clear direction and is heading in a straight line towards its goal in the final judgement. It continues to move towards that glorious day when God will remake the whole world in truth and justice, and of course, in love.
These parables continue to challenge us to both understand them and to place them into action as the wise scribes that we are urged to be. We are called in our thinking, speaking and living to be firmly rooted in the wisdom of the ages and also to be the bearers of the fresh new work that God is doing. For God is always doing a new work – but this work is always an evolution from the continuing work of God across the centuries.
Today we are invited to carefully reflect upon our lives to make sure that the fruit of our lives is both old and new.
Sunday 17, Year A. (Description from the Journey Radio Program)
In chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel, we are presented with a series of 7 parables (of the 40 or so that Jesus tells during his recorded ministry) – which provokes a first question – what is a parable? For most of Christian history, parables have been treated as allegories – with many different interpretations available. What later scholarship realised, is that parables are so much richer than this. There can be a single interpretation, but parables are more like pieces of art, music or poetry – so their precise interpretation will always allude us – yet they constantly point to the breaking in of the kingdom of God. They take ordinary images from rural society, but twist this with the radical nature of what the kingdom is always calling us into.
Today, each of the parables invites us deeper into the experience of patience. No one enjoys waiting. Yet the Lord tells us today that waiting is necessary. It takes time for a crop to grow to harvest; for a seed to grow into a tree; for yeast to do its work in the flour. We want things straight away – we want God to deal with sin and evil in the world and in our lives – but he says to wait. This is not a cop-out. God has dealt with sin once and for all through the death and resurrection of Jesus. So this is waiting for the dawn when the first light of day has already appeared on the eastern horizon. The new day will come. All we need to do is continue to wait in hope and expectant trust.
Jesus makes today a series of fairly bizarre declarations about himself and his position. He tells the disciples – who at the beginning of this chapter 10 of Matthew’s gospel are commissioned and sent out to share in his mission – that anyone who prefers ‘father or mother’; ‘son or daughter’ to me is not worthy of me. This must be read in context – because other places in the New Testament tell us how to have proper relationship with our family members – new and old. This is not a recommendation to ignore our family. This is about something greater. Jesus is not telling us these thing as some ego-filled dictator – but he is telling us this to prompt us along the way of life in the kingdom, and so that we are able to share in the absolute joy that he offers to us. Although it is not explicitly stated, these statements are claims about the divinity of Jesus and his share of life with the Father – and he invites us to share in this life by our placing the worship of Jesus as the first priority of our life. In this we are able to share in true joy – joy that abides in us, and not just at passing moments. There is only one way to experience this joy – and it is through having Jesus as the first gift of our lives. By sharing in his life, and receiving his love, then we have something to share and give to others and ourselves. Many years ago, someone shared with me the secret of joy – which is spelled out by the letters of the word: Jesus; Others; You. By remembering to keep Jesus first in our lives, then we open the door to true joy.
Sunday 13, Year A. Matthew 10:37-41