For today’s homily, please play the video below:
The 11th and 12th chapters of Matthew’s gospel, which we’re reading these days at Mass, describe the growing opposition to Jesus as he preaches and performs miracles in Galilee.
Not only do the Pharisees begin to oppose him and plot to put him to death, but the towns where he’s been–Capernaum, Corazin–seem to forget him. Those chapters end with another source of opposition that may surpise us. His own family from Nazareth seems to misunderstand him. It’s a dark part of Matthew’s gospel.
Jesus answers this opposition in chapter 13 in a series of parables. He begins with the parable of the sower sowing his seed. The seed doesn’t always fall on good ground, he reminds his disciples. Sometimes it falls on the path where it quickly dries up– like the towns that welcome him enthusiastically and soon forget him.
The parable of the weeds and the wheat points to enemies who want to poison the power and beauty of his words and deeds because of their own claims. The Pharisees did that.
The kingdom of God comes in smallness. It’s like the mustard seed, not a full grown tree. You can miss it if you’re looking for something fully grown and done. The treasure is hidden in a field; you may discover almost accidentally. Maybe Jesus’ own extended family in Nazareth still saw him as just the little boy they knew before and could not appreciate him now. We underestimate small things and what they can grow to be.
But the kingdom of heaven is also like a merchant in search of fine pearls. You have to keep searching for it all your life. You can’t give up that search. Keep looking, hoping searching.
Jesus concludes his teaching with the parable of the net cast into the sea that catches fish of every kind, good and bad. At the end of time, the net will be dragged to shore and the good will be separated from the bad.
His parables are about the real world, the world Jesus experienced. They also give us a good template to look at the world we live in, which is not far from his.
To listen to the audio for this week’s homily please select the audio slider below:
Matthew 20,1-19 25th Sunday A
The kingdom of God is coming, it’s here, Jesus says in the gospels. Often he describes the kingdom of God as a harvest, as he does in today’s gospel from Matthew. It’s an abundant harvest, bigger than you think. Pray that God’s kingdom come, he says to his disciples. Pray that it comes here on earth as in heaven. Don’t underestimate the kingdom, the harvest God sends.
It looks like the owner of the vineyard in our parable today has underestimated the size of his harvest. The first crew he sends out at 9 in the morning aren’t enough, so he calls more workers at noon, then 3 in the afternoon. At 5 in the afternoon he’s still adding to his workforce. Looks like he didn’t expect much.
That’s one of the first lessons to draw from the gospel. Don’t underestimate the power of God. Unfortunately, that’s what we do. We can expect too little from God. We forget that his kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. We think he has nothing or little to do with human affairs, or our world or the things here on earth.
The workers in the vineyard don’t seem to appreciate a big harvest either. They’re interested in something else– how much they’re getting paid and how much the other fellow is getting paid. The owner’s not fair, they say, because he pays the last workers the same as those who came first to work in the vineyard. They’re concerned with themselves, blinded as they are by envy and jealousy.
“Are you envious because I am generous,” the owner of the vineyard, who now seems to be a figure of God, says to them. Is this another lesson to draw from the parable? Envy and jealousy and measuring everything from our own perspective blinds us to God’s generosity. They blind us to the coming of God’s kingdom.
On his way through the towns of Galilee, Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom of God. He was bringing it to the world. It was an abundant harvest, yet even as he announced it, powerful voices were denying it was true. The scribes and Pharisees called him a false teacher, even his own disciples’ and his own family didn’t understand him. Still, he proclaimed God’s great kingdom. In the darkness of calvary he proclaimed it to a thief on a cross, and then he proclaimed it to his own disciples as he rose from the dead.
But let’s admit it, as we look at our world today we don’t see signs of a great harvest. Where is the harvest Jesus spoke of? Where is the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God seems far off, hardly here or ready to come. We’re living in a post-modern age, they say, when cynicism and questioning touch everything.
More than ever, we need to look at our world, not with our own eyes, but with the eyes of Jesus.
I like the story from John’s gospel describing Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman on his journey from Jerusalem to Galilee. It’s a hot afternoon; Jesus is tired and stops by a well to get a drink of water. It’s not a friendly place; the Samaritans don’t like the Jews and the Samaritan woman doesn’t like this Jew sitting at their well. But as they talk a new world appears, a light pierces the darkness and the woman recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and calls the people of her town to see him.
“‘In four months the harvest will be here’”? Jesus says to his disciples, “ I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest” He sees the kingdom of God coming in this small unexpected event. In the awakened faith of the woman before him, he sees the kingdom come.
That’s one of our greatest challenges today, to look up and see, in simple signs and in spite of everything, that the fields are ripe for the harvest. The kingdom of God has come.
Most of our readings for this part of Lent in the liturgy are from the “Sermon on the Mount” from the gospel of Matthew, which begins “When Jesus saw the crowds he went up the mountain and after he sat down his disciples came to him and he began to speak, and taught them…” Mt. 5, 1-2
Jesus takes his disciples up a mountain, a place where they can see beyond what they may see in their everyday world. In his time a mountain in Galilee looked down on a land of great beauty, blessed by God.
During lent we’re called to look at our life where beauty might be hidden, or perhaps we just don’t see it. In lent Jesus takes us up a mountain, the Mount of Beatitudes and the Mount of Calvary, and teaches us to see and understand life before us.
Awhile ago, I visited Galilee. Our guide Joseph had an extraordinary appreciation for that part of the Holy Land. In fact, he had a small farm near the Sea of Galilee and constantly remarked on all the things that grew in that blessed land around the sea.
Jesus had the same appreciation for that land, I’m sure. And he used images from the land and the sea to teach about God and his mysteries. I made a short video of Galilee with my friend Mauro and I’m going to use it on Saturday evening during a presentation of the parable of the Sower at St. Mary’s Parish in Colts Neck, NJ.
Here’s a homily for today too.
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.