Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 12, 2020
My friends in Christ, our Gospel text today from Saint Matthew is a parable found also both in Saint Mark and Saint Luke: the parable of the sower of seed. Much of today’s passage is devoted to the parable itself and to the Lord’s explanation of this parable…. But then, there is something the Lord says, which He actually says fairly often throughout the Gospel narratives. And He says it as a sort of “post script” to the parable: “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” What then proceeds and, in fact, constitutes the entire middle section of today’s Gospel text seems to be an explanation of what this means, like a parenthetical “by-the-way,” apart from the actual parable itself.
Related to this, I think, is something that the disciples ask, something that I am certain all of us would love to ask if ever given the chance: “Why do You speak to them in parables?” That is, in other words, “Why not speak plainly, Jesus? In fact, why not just show us the Father and that will be enough for us?” (I seem to recall that the Apostle Philip actually did ask that particular question. So even that question has been asked before!)
And so, the question is asked: why, Lord, do you speak to us in parables? Why the rampant use of riddles and stories when you could just speak plainly? Why the mystery? Why insist on these games and puzzles when our souls are on the line, when we are faced either with eternal salvation or eternal damnation? What kind of a God would do that to us?
I would bet a lot of money that all of us here – every single one of us – asked these or other similar questions at some point in our lives. Why the parables, why the mystery, why hide God the Father rather than simply reveal Him to us plainly…? Why the Sacraments? Why not just come to us in person like You did some two thousand years ago? Why bother with Mass or receive Jesus in the Eucharist when God is supposedly everywhere? Why confess our sins to some priest when the Lord will forgive us if we are just really really sorry? And for that matter, why the clergy, or why the Pope? Why the Church at all? Why read the Bible? Why bother learning the faith and morals of a so-called “antiquated” Catholic tradition? Tell me, God! Answer me! Why?
And it begins with this question of the disciples: “Why do You speak to them in parables?”
The short answer: because God wills it. But sometimes, the short answer really is just not a very satisfying answer for us. So maybe we try exploring a more complete and thorough answer. A metaphor of my own might help.
You parents here today: what is the first thing you teach your children the moment they are old enough, tall enough, to reach the kitchen stove? What is Kitchen Rule Number One? “Do not touch a hot stove,” right? And what is the first rule of the kitchen to be broken by said child? “Do not touch a hot stove.” You can tell a child a thousand times not to touch a hot stove, but how many times do you think it takes a child actually to touch a hot stove before that child learns not to touch a hot stove? Once! (Twice, if you are my brother, heh!) Sometimes, you have to learn the lesson the hard way before you really learn the lesson!
But that seems cruel and excessive, right? I mean, why not just tell the child not to touch the hot stove. Well…you did! And yet, the child chose not to listen, chose to disobey, chose to learn a lesson the hard way, and in the end, when that hot stove is touched…consider that lesson learned!
Fortunately, the Lord’s parables do not actually burn us! But even so, they are, as it were, the hard way to learn a lesson. Like the hot stove. And, like the hot stove, once the lesson is learned, it is learned! Consider this: when you screw up in life, when you sin, all you have to do is repent, go to God and tell God you are sorry for having screwed up, and God will forgive you. An easy lesson to learn, and it was taught in but a single sentence. But did we really learn it? Or were these just words that we vaguely heard but hardly even began to understand? So the Lord gives us a story – the parable of the Prodigal Son. Because He knows (a lot of us know) that, for whatever reason, strange as it is, simply being told is not all that conducive to our actually learning it, does not really seem to work all that well; so we have homework, pop quizzes, exams, research papers! Because we have to figure it out! We have to solve the riddle! We have to own it! And only then do we learn the lesson. And so, instead of just being told, we are given a story, a parable – God’s version of a “pop quiz.” Now, we see and are shown what the Lord is teaching us, what lesson the Lord is presenting to us. And we can solve the mystery of the parable, and we learn it, and we own it. And so it goes; we will have grown in our faith, truly grown, and so will have drawn even closer to the Lord.
Jesus tells the parable; and then, He says, “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” We might put it another way: whoever has the sense God gave them ought to use it. God already gave us all the faculties to solve the mysteries of life and creation; we just have to put those faculties to work. We already have the tools for the job; we just have to use them. We already have the ears to hear what God is saying; we just have to hear. But sadly, many of us cannot even get that right! And the Lord says as much right here: “They look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” Too many people choose not even to hear, not even to use the good sense what God gave them. I have no idea why, but we all know it to be true; we all know such people, too many people in fact! These are the people who demand signs from God…who demand a free, no-effort hand-out…who like a modern-day “doubting Thomas” simply will not believe unless they can touch and probe the open, still-bleeding wounds of the risen Lord. And even then, some people still will not believe; they will instead find a whole new excuse why not to believe, why not to bother themselves to conform their own personal will to the will of God, why not to “repent and believe in the Gospel.” Maybe there are times when the Lord just really wants to say to them, as He said to Job, “What more do you want from Me? I give you life; I give you Earth; I give you existence; I give you Sacred Scripture; I give you Tradition; I give you My Son; I give you His Church; I give you My Son again (and again, and again) through His Church – the Sacraments. So what more do you want from Me?”
With the grace of God given to us in the Eucharist and in every Sacrament, and by the help of the prayers of Mother Mary and of all saints, may it be that – unlike that modern-day “doubting Thomas” – we bother ourselves to hear and listen when God speaks and that we use the good sense God gave us to know what and when and how God speaks…that we resist all temptations to demand signs from God and so be content with the abundance of gifts and blessings already given us. And when we do this and when God thus speaks, may it be that we have the fortitude, the wherewithal, to learn the lesson that we are taught…and to own the lesson that we learn.
on Tuesday, July 14 at 8:12AM