In the Story
For the last two Sundays we have been reading the thirteenth chapter of Matthew. This chapter is referred to as the 'Day of Parables'. Since Matthew collects these parables into a single chapter, it's important to look at them, not as individual stories, but as a continuous discourse by Jesus.
All of theses parables have a common theme. They are about the Kingdom of God, and the attitudes and characteristics of those who will enter into God's Glory. To fully understand the parables, we need listen to these stories as if they were told specifically to us.
The first parable is about Christ, depicted as a farmer, who casts seed that falls on on a hard path, on rocky ground, among thorns, and some that fell on fertile soil. In the rocky and rough terrain of Israel casting seed in this manner was commonplace, and what was not easily harvested was left for the poor.
As the seeds fell on all types on ground, the parable tells us that faith and entry into the Kingdom of God is possible for everyone. The seed falls on believers and unbelievers, rich and poor, slaves and freemen. Also, it shows us that salvation is a free gift, given by Christ, a gift we cannot earn. But, that gift requires our cooperation and it must be earnestly sought. Jesus says, “A tree is known by its fruit.” 1 Only those who cultivate the soil of belief, and bear good fruit, will gain entry into the Kingdom.
In the telling, Jesus asks us to place ourselves into the story. Jesus invites us to ask, 'What is the soil of my life?' Is my mind and heart fertile soil, or the rocky ground of indifference? Am I like the hardened path of unforgiveness, or the road to mercy? Am I trapped by the thorns of sin, or do I seek the freedom found in the teachings of Christ and His Church? Jesus says, “Not everyone will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but [only] the one who does the Will of My Father”2 To do the Will of the Father, we must first know the Father's Will.
The second is the parable about weeds sown among the wheat. The farmer, Christ, plants good seed, but the enemy, Satan, sows weeds among the wheat. The weeds in this case are a specific type, called darnel. Darnel is a poisonous plant. In sabotaging the crops Satan has two objectives. The first is to destroy the crop - that is to destroy the Church. And second, he intends to kill us – to kill our souls by poisoning our faith and thus robbing us of our salvation.
So, putting ourselves in the story, we ask. Am I well grounded, and strong enough in my faith, to withstand Satan's onslaught? Satan is very devious and clever. We cannot know or predict how he will attack. And he attacks us most effectively in our weakness. In the parable Satan came cloaked in darkness while the righteous slept. Jesus is telling us that the time of vigilance is at hand. And, now, as the onslaught intensifies, we need to ask 'am I willing and ready to give my life for Christ?'
In the third and fourth parable, Jesus speaks about the mustard seed that becomes the largest of plants, and about the leaven that raises the entire batch of dough. And in the reading for next week we hear the story of the boy with five loaves and the two fish, a meager beginning that bears astonishing results.
Jesus is telling us that any effort we make toward the Kingdom, even the smallest and seemingly least significant, will be greatly blessed and magnified. It is our role to spread the seeds of faith and do the Will of our Father. The Lord, Himself, will guide the sun and the rain, and guide their growth.
St. Theresa of Calcutta was once asked how it felt to be so unsuccessful? She replied, “God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.”3 And, Our Blessed Mother, who risked death to give Birth to the Savior, exclaimed, “My soul doth magnify the Lord”. 4
Again, putting ourselves in the story, does our faith grow like the mustard seed? Or are we stagnant and starving from a lack of spiritual nourishment? Do we leaven our environment with the love of God? Or, are we timid and silent in the face of the enemy? Can we say that our soul magnifies the Lord?
Theresa of Calcutta cared for only one soul at a time, but reached thousands, and became a great saint. Jesus challenges us to proudly take up our cross, to work in His vineyard, trusting that our small beginnings can produce great results. We are simply the instruments, the music is His.
In the fifth and sixth parables Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure buried in a field. And out of joy a person sells all he has to buys that field. Likewise a merchant on finding a pearl of great price, in his joy sells all he has to buy that pearl. Jesus commends the single-mindedness and willingness to sacrifice everything for what they deem has a much greater value.
Again, putting ourselves into the parable, Jesus asks what is it that we most desire? What do we value? What is our treasure? What is our pearl? What is it that we would give up everything to have? And do we have the single-mindedness and dedication needed to accomplish our goal?
But these questions go to a much deeper reality. Do we truly recognize the value, the greatness, and enormity of the gift that God wants to bestow on us? Many seek the treasures of earth - treasures that wither and fade. Fewer seek the treasures of grace and the pearl of Christ's Love. How single-minded are we about doing God's Will - about living a Christlike life? How single-minded are we about paving the way into the Kingdom for our families, and for others? Are we willing to give up everything to seek the Glory of God? Christ is the true treasure, and Heaven is the true pearl. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.
The seventh and final parable echoes the first. Jesus tells us that just as the good fish are separated from the bad, only the righteous will inherit the Kingdom of God. There is no place in the Kingdom for the lukewarm or casual Christian. Christ demands all our devotion. He demands all our love.