Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes for 7-20-2014. This week we open by briefly looking at the responsorial Psalm from the first reading and then move onto the second reading in which we study some deep truths from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Finally, we move to the Gospel lesson in which we continue Jesus’ teaching of the parables in Matthew 13 that we looked at last week.
The first reading is from the Apocrypha; you can read and study that for yourself at the link provided at the end of this study (we don’t have permission to reprint that text due to copyright protection). The main idea from that is given in the responsorial Psalm that follows this reading. This is from Psalm Chapter 86 and we have included verses 5-7:
5 For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.
6 Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; And give heed to the voice of my supplications!
7 In the day of my trouble I shall call upon You, For You will answer me. (Psalm 86:5-7)
God forgives those who call upon Him (v. 5), listen to their prayers (v. 6), and answers them during times of distress (v. 7). It is good to know that God is above our problems (He is not wringing His hands in worry), yet He is not aloof to us in our neediness. There are two terms that help us to understand these important facets of God’s character: transcendence (God is above His creation and rules over it) and immanence (God draws near to His creation and desires to be with us). These few verses teach us that He not only has the power to help us, He is interested in answering us; God’s transcendence and immanence. What an amazing God who is powerful and uses His power in good and loving ways. His loving power is most clearly seen in the cross, as He gave His Son as a sacrifice for our sin debt.
The second reading also has a theme of prayer, only this passage teaches that the Holy Spirit Himself is praying for us. This passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans reinforces God’s transcendence and immanence as well.
26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27).
In this reading, Saint Paul revealed a marvelous mystery about God the Holy Spirit. He said that God the Holy Spirit prays on our behalf (v. 26), and intercedes for us (v. 27). God is transcendent above the believer, knowing what our real needs are and working towards His end goal of glorifying Himself in our transformation. Yet, He also comes alongside us as the Helper who lives inside of us (John 14:6), praying with “groanings” too deep for words. He is not a cosmic policeman trying to enforce the rules. Instead this passage teaches that God the Holy Spirit is moved by our helpless estate and He desires to accomplish the Father’s will in our lives. He prays for things that we ourselves may not value yet and may not see need to be accomplished in our lives. Maybe one important take away is to begin to listen to God’s heart for our lives as we read the Bible and see if He may be answering His prayers for us when we don’t see Him answering our prayers the way we desire. God’s vision for our lives is much bigger than our small hopes and dreams. Saint John of the Cross said it well:
How will a person
Brought to birth and nurtured in a world of small horizons,
Rise up to you Lord
If you do not raise him by your hand which made him?
The text doesn’t say whether or not God changes our existing prayers to coincide with His will, or if He makes new petitions for us. Regardless, each person of the Holy Trinity intercedes with the other on our behalf. This is extremely important because Paul said, “we do not know how to pray as we should” (v. 27). We know from Jesus’ prayer in John Chapter 17 that He prays for us. Because this prayer is recorded in Scripture, we can be certain that Jesus continues ministering on our behalf. Later on in Romans 8:34, Paul assures us that “Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” Again, God’s transcendence (knowing what we need) and immanence (being with us in our need) are important truths that should warm our hearts in our daily lives. We are not alone. God is with us.
The Gospel lesson this week includes three parables from the continuing study in Matthew 13. The first is the parable of the weeds and the tares and this provides some extremely important insights into the nature of the kingdom, both in the near term and looking on into eternity. It also gives important insight into those who will be locked out of the kingdom. Like the parable of the sower we looked at last week, Jesus went on to explain the meaning to His disciples. The second parable is the parable of the mustard seed, and the final one covered this week is the parable of the leaven.
Some specific cautions are in order about the interpretation of these particular parables as well as that genre in general. First, each parable must not be construed in such a way as to make it “walk on all fours” by taking terms literally when used within without fully considering the context. For example, though the word “leaven” (Matthew 13:33) is almost universally a negative term in the Bible, for example the “leaven of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6), it is also a very good thing when used in the context of baking bread. A second word in the reading today about which we take note of is the word “birds.” In the Old Testament many, but not all birds were unclean animals and therefore bad in the Jewish context. John, the author of Revelation, used this association when he described the future religious and civil empire of the Antichrist Mystery Babylon as the home for every “unclean and hateful bird” (Revelation 18:2). However, as we will read in a moment, Jesus used this word to describe the rapid growth and size of His kingdom, not necessarily the nature of the kingdom (although some will debate this point). A large and fast growing kingdom is a good thing, though we need to take caution in believing that everyone who appears to be inside the kingdom may not be what they appear, as we will see in the parable of the wheat and the tares. We have to focus upon the main point of the parable and lay aside the word studies unless they change the meaning of the main point.
Here is an example of a modern “parable.” In our day and age we know what we mean when we say: “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” We would never say this means that people should literally not throw stones while living inside that type of house, whether or not that was true. Instead, what we mean is that people should not criticize others for having the same faults that they have. That is the main point of this modern parable, which brings us to a second caution about interpreting parables.
Second, parables in the First Century Jewish context were used to prove one (or sometimes two) main ideas by “laying alongside” a story that was easy for the hearers in an oral culture to grasp. Although there is usually only one main meaning in a parable there are multiple applications. With these things in mind let’s read the Gospel lesson.
24 Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. 26 But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. 27 The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' 28 "And he said to them, 'An enemy has done this!' The slaves said to him, 'Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?' 29 "But he said, 'No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 'Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’"31 He presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; 32 and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES." 33 He spoke another parable to them, "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened." 34 All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: "I WILL OPEN MY MOUTH IN PARABLES; I WILL UTTER THINGS HIDDEN SINCE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD." 36 Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field." 37 And He said, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 "So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:24-43)
Jesus taught the crowds and the disciples by giving them three parables. First, let’s examine the parable of the wheat and the tares. This is a very important parable that provides essential insights both into the nature of Jesus’ holy kingdom as well as some into the nature of the place where those excluded from it will be assigned for eternity. Many points arise from Jesus’ teaching, here are a few.
- The picture provided of the separation of the wheat and the tares is what will occur in Revelation Chapter 17 at the end of the Great Tribulation when believers will be welcomed into Jesus’ kingdom reign on earth and all unbelievers will be removed.
- There are two literal destinations, heaven and hell. Hell is a real, literal place which is eternal and everyone that doesn’t go to heaven goes there. Jesus taught more about hell than He did about heaven. In Matthew 13 he clarifies by saying, “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (vv. 41-42).
The author of Hebrews said, "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this to face judgment" (Heb. 9:27).
- The weed plants grow, seemingly out of control, alongside the wheat during their natural lives. But when the weeds die they are subjected to the control of the Master who rounds them up to be burned. It is at this point that their true nature becomes evident. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matthew 7:21).
- The nature of the seeds is different. Only God knows which one will grow into a wheat plant, and another into a weed. The doctrine of predestination is tied directly to God’s foreknowledge. Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestinedto becomeconformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” God wishes that none would perish but all would come to the knowledge of eternal life (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9).
- Angels serve God in a unique ministry of gathering souls, bringing them to their rightful eternal destinations. The destination of the person’s soul being transported is known to the angels at this point, even before God affords them justice through a trial. (Revelation 20:12). For “nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life” (Revelation 21:27).
- The “church age” is a mystery, one not seen even by the disciples and Old Testament Prophets (Ephesians 5:32).
Second, Jesus told the parable of the mustard seed (vv. 31-32). Anyone that has ever seen a mustard seed knows of its tiny size, but how could a mustard seed grow into a tree and what does that have to do with the kingdom of heaven? The plant becomes so large that even birds can lodge in it, something that no normal mustard plant could ever hope to achieve. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, and when it is full grown it becomes so large that it brings refuge to people in the entire world.
Finally, Jesus told the parable of the leaven. As we said in the introduction, although leaven was equivalent to sin in the minds of a Jewish audience, the context makes it clear that this wasn’t the meaning that Jesus intended. Instead, what Jesus said was that His kingdom would grow and expand in a mysterious way like leaven (v. 33) placed in dough. The leaven is hidden in the bread and its work is a mystery. In the same way the church is a mystery hidden in the world (Ephesians 5:32), and unseen by the Prophets and even the disciples.
What do these parables mean for us today, what are some possible applications? First, since the weeds are not uprooted we are called to be discerning. We must know the Word of God and be willing to provide our testimony, the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15). Second, Christians are called to provide salt and light in their workplaces consisting of a mix of believers and nonbelievers including a variety of other faith groups. Finally, we can take courage in the fact that God will continue to build His kingdom into a large web, regardless of persecution and the political happenings of the age. The Word will spread as leaven through dough, and the tiny seed will become as large as a tree.
Bottom Line: Questions for Reflection
1. The parables in Matthew 13 give us teachings about the Kingdom of Heaven. Since Jesus was from heaven, He speaks with authority of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. His goal was to transform people from being citizens of earth to citizens of heaven, even while living here on earth. How does Jesus’ vision for Kingdom living compare and contrast with your present vision for life? Where is your life in line with His vision and where is your life out of line with His vision? Spend some time talking to Him about what you would like to see Him do to move you closer to His vision.
2. The first two readings pointed out God’s transcendence (He is above creation) and immanence (He draws near to His creation). What difference does God’s transcendence and immanence make in our everyday lives? How might you (and others) know that you are growing in internalizing these truths?
Note: For a listing of readings for the Roman Catholic Mass visit this web site: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072014.cfm
First Reading WIS 12:13, 16-19
Second Reading ROM 8:26-27
Gospel Reading MT 13:24-43
Online Scripture verses for most Bible versions can be found at: http://www.biblegateway.com/