Jesus, the Parable Teller

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017:

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017

By Deacon Lawrence N. Kaas July 23, 2017

Deacon Dick Folger writes a simple little footnote to the readings of this day: he writes, that Dolly Parton was probably not thinking about today’s Gospels when she said “the way I see it, if you want a rainbow, you got to put up with the rain.” In the first parable today the farmer planted good wheat in his fields. His enemy tried to sabotage the crop by sowing weeds in the fields. The wise farmer decides to put up with the weeds until the harvest. Then he had the weeds removed. Afterwards, with full barns he enjoyed the rainbow of the good harvest.

The gospel teaches us that at the end of the world the evildoer will be hurled into a fiery furnace. The Saints will shine like the sun in their father’s kingdom. So writes Deacon Dick.

Today’s readings can be seen as part two of last week’s passages. This is the clearest in the gospel, as Jesus explains the parable of the sower and the seed that we heard last week.

The first reading reminds us that God “has the care of all,” which surely means all of God’s creation, not just humans. Paul again speaks of groaning, but this time he refers to the spirit groaning within us. Since the God Spirit is in all things, this could also remind us to care for all that God has made. So, if you didn’t address creation’s care last week or if you want to make it a double-header, you could easily focus on it this weekend.

On the other hand the stronger message of these texts calls attention to God’s mercy and the need for repentance. The first reading ends by reminding us that God gave God’s children good ground for hope permitting repentance for their sins. The Psalm proclaims God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity.” Paul speaks of the Spirit coming to the aid of our weakness and the gospel includes a call to repentance for “all who cause others to sin and all evil doers.”

This might be a good time to think about summer penance because now it has been months since Lent and there are moths before advent. Because those two seasons are close to each other the bulk of the year can go by with no invitation to repentance and reconciliation. Can we find effective ways to invite people to gather to celebrate God’s mercy together outside these two seasons?

Getting back to the subject at hand: storytelling was a good part of the life of Jewish families and clearly a means to instruct members of one’s family, and was often used at meal time, I’m sure in much the same way as we would have table-talk today. These stories became known as parables and Jesus was an expert at them. Through familiar, parables, and Jesus’ culture, they were not meant to be entertaining children’s stories or moralistic fables. Instead Jesus’ first listeners would have known that parables and tellers of parables were there to prompt them to see the world in a different way, to challenge, and at times to indict, (meaning to charge with an offense). Today’s Gospel offers three such parables.

In the gospel, Jesus begins each parable by saying “the kingdom of heaven is like….” It is important for us to remember that this mystery that Jesus speaks about, the mystery of the kingdom of heaven, cannot be reduced to just one image. It is a mystery so fast and incomprehensible as to require a multiplicity of similes to explore as we grapple with what it might mean. Unlike proclamations or definitions, which can be passively received, teaching through parables requires active participation on the part of the listener. In the parables, answers and insights aren’t doled out in neatly packaged portions, instead we have to work for them.

What might be the meaning today as we listen again to the familiar words of the wheat and weeds, the mustard seed, and leaven? All three parables speak of a slow, silent growth. Almost in secret, wheat and corn and mustard seed planted in the ground crack open to allow a sprout of new life to take hold in the soil.

By the time the tiniest green shoot is visible to a passing human, a vast system of roots has already firmly established itself below the ground. Nourished by the roots the plant grows and grows, day by day transforming itself into something that can bring forth fruit and offer shelter. What might this every day transformation tell us about the kingdom of heaven’s silent growth in the here and now? By the way right now I’m thinking of our cornfields.

The fast majority of Jesus’ parables that deal with everyday occurrences such as a merchant buying pearls, a woman searching for a coin, or a traveler in need of help. Instead of pointing to the fantastical, Jesus calls attention to reality. As he tells the crowds in Luke’s gospel, “the kingdom of heaven is among you.” In order to live in this kingdom we need only eyes to see it and ears to hear it.

To enter into a parable we must be willing to let go of the security offered by answers and definitions. What might we discover if we dare to open ourselves to the incomprehensible mystery of the kingdom of heaven? Perhaps like the seeds of mustard and wheat, we will also experience transformation. The only way to find out is to trust Jesus, the parable teller, as he gently causes us to become a “parable people.”

So you all be Good, be Holy, preach the Gospel always and if necessary use Words!

(‘Thank you’ to Deacon Kaas, for letting me post his reflection here — Brian H. Gill.)

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