GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
...and now we move into the third great teaching discourse of Jesus, which is the parables discourse, which consist primarily of Matthew 13.
So what we find in Matthew 13 is a cluster of many of Jesus's most famous parables, and in the lectionary, what the Church does is spends three Sundays in Ordinary Time taking us slowly through this discourse on the parables.
Already that should tell you that the parables of Jesus are important, and that if we are going to understand his message we need to be able to understand the parables.
So the Gospel for this Sunday is a long Gospel.
It is the first 23 verses of Matthew 23, so what I would like to do is walk through it in order, but stop and pause at certain points and explain what's going on, rather than read the whole Gospel and come back to the beginning.
So let's begin, the first section of the Gospel just sets the stage for what Jesus is going to do throughout the rest of the chapter, and also gives us the first, and in in some ways the most famous, of his parables, which is the parable of the sower.
So let’s do those first few verses.
In Matthew 13:1 and following we read:
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.
And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat there; and the whole crowd stood on the beach.
And he told them many things in parables…
Alright, pause there.
The Greek word there for parable is parabolē,
so this is a loan word from Greek into English.
It's a translation of the Hebrew word mashal,
which literally means a riddle or a proverb.
So the idea of Jesus teaching in parables here, in a Jewish context, isn’t just comparison stories — although that's the primary meaning of the Greek word.
The Greek word does mean to compare two things, to throw them together literally, but it's based on a Hebrew word that also has the connotation of a proverb or a riddle.
So one of the first things I want to stress here about the parables is that many of Jesus’ parables aren’t just stories comparing two things one to another, they also are riddles.
So whenever you read the parables of Jesus you want to ask yourself is there something unusual going on in this comparison, is there something unusual in the story, or as I like to tell my students, “look for the twist.”
There is almost always a twist in Jesus’ parables, something unexpected.
And if you can figure out what the twist is, then you are going to get at the heart of the parable, you are going to find the meaning of the riddle, you will unlock the meaning of the riddle.
So he's teaching them many things in parables and this first parable here is the parable of the sower.
So it says this:
“A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.
Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away.
Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
Okay, let's pause there for just a moment.
Now if you are a cradle Catholic or if you have been going to Mass for several years regularly, then you're going to be familiar with this story, the story of the sower who goes out to sow seed and the seed falls on different kinds of ground.
However, I kind of want to just back up and try to imagine, what would a first century Jew have thought about this parable and how would they have reacted to it?
Because a lot of times what happens is we become so familiar with the story of the parable that we often miss the twist, we often miss the unexpected nature of what Jesus is describing here.
So let me try to put you in their shoes and imagine it for just a second.
So let's start back at the beginning of parable.
“A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path.”
Now pause there, that is the first unexpected element to this parable, because any first century Jew would've known that if you're going to go and get seed — which was expensive — and you are going to plant it in your field or in your garden and that's your livelihood, you'd better take good care that none of the seed gets lost.
And so what is being described here is a sower who is careless in his sowing of seed.
Think about it.
Even if you plant a garden and you go out and buy some seeds at Lowes, Home Depot, or the garden center, and you bring them home, what are you going to do?
You’re going to put each seed in the furrows, you are going to put them in the soil in just the right spot so that they can grow.
You are not going to, on the way home from the store, drop some seed in the driveway.
What is going to happen to that seed if you do?
It's not going to take root and it'll be either eaten by birds or it will be crushed in the pathway.
So already there's a twist to this parable.
Namely this, this sower doesn't know what he's doing.
He is seemingly careless with the seed, he drops some on the path.
So let’s keep going:
Other seeds fell on rocky ground
Okay, once again, the sower honestly has no idea what he is doing.
This guy is a terrible farmer.
He is not only dropping seed in the highway, on the street, he is also dropping it in the rocky ground, where nothing is going to grow.
And sure enough, although there's a little bit of soil there, there is not enough for it to last so it sprouts up quickly but it withers away as well very quickly.
And then finally, in the next images, is says that other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
Yet again this guy is the worst farmer in the universe.
You don't plant seeds in the midst of thorns, they will do to the seeds exactly what weeds will do to your garden.
So just to take a real quick personal example, I planted a garden in my backyard this year.
We went away for a long vacation and I noticed some weeds were growing in the garden before we left, but I didn’t have time to take care of them.
Before we left, I had planted squash plants and the squash was flourishing.
It was green.
They were giant plants, but by the time we got back from vacation the weeds had grown up and had completely not just grown around the other plants, but had choked them and killed them.
So like four or five of the squash plants were completely dead, because the weeds had gone in and choked them at the roots.
Why did this happen?
Because I'm a terrible gardener, and the same thing is true of the sower here.
This guy does not know what he's doing or at least he apparently doesn't know what he's doing, because he's so careless and gratuitous with all of these seed.
So first century Jews are going to wonder “who is this crazy sower and what does this have to do with the kingdom of God?”
Then finally he gets it right, some of the seed falls on good soil and on that good soil it brings forth grain, that you would make wheat, that you would make bread with.
But notice how much it brings forth, sixtyfold, thirtyfold, and a hundredfold.
Okay, now pause there for a moment.
As a number of scholars have argued here, in an ordinary harvest in the first century A.D., seven-and-a-half-fold would be like an average harvest, and tenfold would be a good harvest.
So what is Jesus describing here, thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold!?
This is almost miraculous.
This is a super abundant harvest.
And again that's unexpected because this sower
doesn’t seem to know what he is doing.
Yet when he gets it in the good soil, it's like a miraculous harvest, super abundant grain, superabundant wheat.
And how does Jesus end
He who has ears, let him hear.
That alone should tell you right there that this is a puzzle, this is a riddle.
He's calling you to try to grasp the deeper meaning of the parable.
It is not to going to be obvious.
You have to have ears.
Your ears have to be open to what he's trying to say.
Now that's the end of the parable.
Now if you keep going in the Gospel reading, you'll see that the disciples themselves are puzzled by this manner of teaching.
Look at how they respond — we are going to leave the meaning of the parable for just a minute.
The Gospel keeps going:
Then the disciples came and said to him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?”
Now pause there.
If I asked you that question, why did Jesus teach in parables?
What would you say?
What's the answer to the question?
I don’t know about you, but most people that I've met, and I know of my own learning over the years, most people assume or will say that Jesus taught in parables so that simple, ordinary people could understand it.
In other words, that he gave these common stories from ordinary life so that even the simplest person could understand it, and so that his teaching would be as clear as possible.
He is not a philosopher, he is not using all this highfalutin language.
And that is partially.
The parables are drawn from everyday life.
They are drawn from the fields and the farms and fishing, so they are drawn from ordinary life.
But, they are not simple stories that would be clear and obvious to everyone.
If you actually look at Jesus’ answers the apostles, it almost seems like he is saying the precise opposite.
Look at what he says there:
Why do you speak to them in parables?
And he answered them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.
For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: `You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive.
For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.’
Okay, pause there for a second.
What did Jesus just yay?
He said that the reason he speaks in parables is precisely in order to conceal the secrets of the Kingdom from those who are hard of heart, blind of sight, and deaf of hearing.
So the parables have a kind of paradoxical function.
They both reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom to the disciples and conceal the Kingdom to those whose hearts are hardened against Jesus.
So the parables are not nice little stores that everybody can understand.
They are mysteries.
They are riddles that you need the grace of an open mind, open heart, and open ear to be able to grasp.
In other words, the parables would've been confusing to people and not just simple teachings that anyone can understand.
And that is why he says to the disciples, “to you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom.”
And the Greek word there for secrets is mystēria,
we get the word mystery from that.
So yet again, just like last Sunday in Ordinary Time, where Jesus talked about the mystery of the Son and the mystery of the Father, now he's talking about the mystery of the Kingdom.
This is a supernatural mystery, you can’t just figure it out because you are really smart.
It has to be revealed to you through the grace of God.
So the parables conceal it from those who are hard of heart, and here he is quoting this chapter from Isaiah, Isaiah 6 14-15.
It was basically a prophecy of Isaiah, who was speaking in the eighth century B.C., to the Israelites at a time when they were very corrupt and they were very sinful.
And guess what Isaiah would do?
When he wanted to condemn them for their hard-heartedness and sinfulness, he would use parables, he would use allegories, like in Isaiah 5-6, because the parable was — I don’t want to say a safe way — a kind of safe way to condemn your audience without explicitly just condemning them.
It made them think about their own state of hardheartedness.
So Jesus takes the language of Isaiah and he says “I speak in parables because of what Isaiah said.
Because just like Isaiah was speaking to a sinful people whose hearts were hardened, so now those who are rejecting me in our time are fulfilling that prophecy of Isaiah.”
Whereas the disciples were given the grace to understand, that's what he says in the next verses, verse 16 and following:
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.
Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
So the disciples have been given a special grace to hear and to understand, but as you all know from the Gospels, that doesn't mean they always get it, and so they need a little help.
And so what Jesus does now is he not only gives them the parable, the riddle, he also gives them the explanation.
He breaks it down for them and tells them what the meaning of this riddle is.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
TSo let’s read through it together and then we’ll back up and try to unpack some of the implications of what Paul is saying here about Christian eschatology and about the hope for the future. So Romans 8:18 says this:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Alright, so there is the passage for today—beautiful, poetic, and profound text. In order to understand what Paul’s getting at here, there are a few points we want to make. First and foremost, once again, Paul is presupposing and employing the ancient Jewish distinction between two spheres of reality, two worlds known as the old creation and the new creation…..or in later Hebrew rabinnic language, the “this age” (ha olam hazeh
) and “the age to come” (ha olam habah
)...or “this world” and “the world to come.” And as I’ve mentioned before, whereas in other ancient Jewish writings, there was a kind of sequential understanding of these two worlds. You have the old world of sin and death—this world, the present age—that will one day come to an end. And there will be a new creation, a new world to follow it—the world to come.
For Paul, those two spheres of reality are overlapping in Christ, and Christ Himself is both the end of the old world that He put to death on the cross and then the beginning of the new world that He brought to life in His resurrection from the dead. And so with that framework in mind, Paul here is using the language of ancient Jewish eschatology when he says “this present time.” That’s a technical way of referring to the old creation. And when he says “the glory to be revealed”, that’s a technical way of referring to the world to come, which is going to be a world of glory and life and resurrection.
And so what Paul is saying here is, “Look, I know you’re suffering right now. But you need to understand that the sufferings of the old creation, of this present world, are nothing compared to the glory of the world to come.” And then he goes on to explain why. He says because creation—and by creation he means the whole created universe:
...waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
Now the Greek word there for creation is ktisis
. It means all created things, the whole visible universe. And here Paul is personifying the universe as a person who’s waiting for something to happen. He’s not describing it as an inanimate collection of atoms and molecules and inanimate matter. He’s describing it and personifying it, saying all of creation is waiting for the revealing of the sons of God.
Now the Greek word there for revealing is apokalypsis
. We get the word apocalypse from that in English. So when you and I talk about the apocalypse, we probably refer to the cataclysmic end of the universe. That’s what most people mean when they say apocalypse. They usually mean something bad. But Paul here is using it positively, because the Greek word apokalypsis
literally means “unveiling” or “revealing.”
So when Paul talks about the apocalypse, he’s talking about the unveiling of the sons of God that will happen in the resurrection of the righteous on the last day. So he is referring to the end of the world, but it’s something he’s looking forward to. In fact, Paul is saying not only is he looking forward to the end of the world, but the world itself is looking forward to the end of the world, because the world is waiting for the apocalypse of the sons of God—for the revelation of the righteous and for the resurrection of the righteous on the last day. And the reason the universe is looking forward to the end of the universe is because according to the Paul, at the end of the universe, the universe itself is going to actually have a share in the resurrection of the righteous on the last day. The cosmos itself is actually going to participate in the resurrection of humanity.
Now that’s a profound assertion on Paul’s part to make. Because I would venture to guess that many Christians, especially in the west, tend to think of salvation primarily in anthropocentric terms—in other words, human terms. We think primarily of the salvation of human souls and maybe of the resurrection of human bodies, but we don’t tend to think of all of the universe as somehow sharing in the resurrection of the dead. But according to Paul, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. According to Paul, salvation in other words, isn’t just something for humanity. Salvation is something that involves the whole universe, the whole cosmos.
And so he’s saying that creation itself is going to be set free, because creation itself was subjected to bondage, the bondage of decay. Now what is that referring to? Here Paul is reflecting the ancient Jewish notion that when the first sin is committed by Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 and 3, it doesn’t just affect them. It’s not something that just affects their souls or even their bodies, but rather that the first sin affects the whole world...that all of creation becomes subject to decay and death because of the sin of man and woman. And because that’s the case, Paul says conversely, that all of creation will also be subject to life and be set free from decay in the glory of the resurrection on the last day.
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