The 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK
July 21, 2002
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19 + Romans 8:26-27 + Matthew 13:24-30
“How far do you want to go?” was the question I posed to you last weekend. The lure of Chapter Thirteen continues with more parables of the Kingdom: parables that requires some information leading to understanding for those who want to step more deeply into the Kingdom of God. Without that information, we are left with silly riddles that do little more than entertain like riddles do for those who enjoy superficial intellectual guessing games.
There is a distinction drawn all through this chapter between the disciples, who understand these parables and those others who are not given understanding. This distinction is at the heart of chapter 13. One group has gone in, the other is content to simply look, but as Jesus says, they don’t see. Beneath these parables collected by Matthew and woven together to reveal the truth of God’s working presence in our midst is the subtle invitation to move deeper into “understanding” which does not mean an intellectual awareness, but rather a commitment that involves faith and obedience, a moral commitment that involves our deepest selves. These are not parables that tell us how to live. They are not about what the Kingdom of God will be like in the future, but rather about what is happening right now. Since the Word of God is alive in our midst, these parables speak to us about this year and this very hour. These parables speak to our understanding.
We are warned today about the difference between simply “hearing” the Word of God and “understanding” it. The commitment to which we are called, the commitment, which is pure gift to those who want and seek it, is threatened less these days by persecution than by secular scorn. You know what that sounds like: “You don’t really believe all that stuff do you?” For Matthew’s crowd it was more political and physical persecution, for us, it is scorn and ridicule. The effect is the same. The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches are still able to choke the word. If anything, this chapter ought to drag us to our knees and wrench from our hearts a prayer for the gift of understanding that what we believe with our minds might be acted out in our daily behavior. These parables challenge us to leave behind a pedestrian, pragmatic, everyday world that treats God as irrelevant or like a tamed mascot and enter a new world where God is the primary reality, where God is working even though human eyes cannot perceive the reality.
Let me leave you with one detail, one fact, which might bring these parables to life as they did those to whom they were first spoken. “Three measures of flour” could, in our time, be thought of as “three cups”. But the fact is, “three measures” is actually about fifty pounds! With that much dough, bread for more than one hundred people would have come from her oven. It hints at the bounty of the heavenly banquet. It acknowledges that God, the leaven, is at work in ways no one can see, and reminds us that the outcome of God’s activity is more and greater than we can imagine or accomplish on our own. This parable and the mustard seed parable insist that God’s action in the world whether perceptible or not is nonetheless real and will in God’s own time come to bear fruit. This Kingdom is not something that will suddenly appear full blown without some prior activity. It is happening right now.
In every case through chapter thirteen, the human response is a significant issue. Like buried treasure, God’s activity is hidden and must be discovered. Like a pearl of great value, it must be sought in order to be found. The Kingdom of God is not something we acquire like a piece of real estate. It is not something we possess, it is a sphere into which one enters. It is a participation in the rule of God that must be total. Those who want to be there, who want to participate in the Kingdom of God, must go all the way in. They cannot just see. They cannot just hear. They must understand. For that we ought to pray now and in the days to come.