We read the scriptures in our daily lectionary bit by bit. For example, today’s readings at Mass are:
Ex 16:1-5, 9-15
Over the year we read a lot of the scriptures this way, but it seems to me that we can miss what they’re saying if we don’t see the picture overall. In other words, the big picture behind our readings helps us to read them bit by bit, and modern scripture studies are helping us do that.
For instance, in the next few days we’re going to be reading in our lectionary a series of parables from the 13th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, beginning today with the parable of the Sower. Can the gospel as a whole help us understand what we’re reading ?
Way back in the 5th chapter of Matthew, Jesus called his disciples up a mountain and promised them a blessed life by living the beatitudes. Sublime teaching. We like it. He performed great miracles as a sign of his authority. In chapter 10 he sends disciples out to proclaim his life-giving message. “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
Don’t go to tough places, pagan territory, the Samaritan towns, Jesus tells them. Just go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
They did and found them the toughest of all; they met stiff opposition in Galilee, more than they possibly expected. Jesus himself faced opposition there too, but Matthew’s gospel, written around 90 AD (possibly in Galilee or nearby) is describing a situation that has worsened considerably.
After Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, the Pharisees moved into Galilee in force and sought to rebuild Judaism. They saw the followers of Jesus of Nazareth as their strongest opponents. Matthew’s gospel reflects the increasing Jewish resistance to Christians in his day.
Why doesn’t our world believe in Jesus of Nazareth, they said? And we do too. Is the kingdom of heaven really at hand? What’s happening? Jesus’ followers then must have asked questions like that, as their position deteriorated.
“A sower went out to sow. some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.”
Finally, after all that, we hear some seed fell on good ground.
The parable describes one of the mysteries of the Kingdom: it’s not always welcomed.
Is that a hard lesson for us to recognize today? It sure is.We’re in the same boat as those who heard this parable originally. I think that helps us to hear it and understand.