Gospel reflection for July 23, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Many of the parables of Jesus concern the Kingdom of Heaven. He generally compares the Kingdom with the rapid and unaccounted for growth of something that seems small and insignificant. In a sense, then, we see the historic growth of the Church through the course of time. Jesus started with four disciples and today, including all who identify themselves as Christians, that number is now more than two billion. This seems to be the very dramatic growth of which he spoke, but is this really what Jesus was speaking about? Is there anywhere in the Scriptures that Jesus seemed to be pleased merely at the size of the crowd who followed him?
The use of the expression “Kingdom of Heaven” instead of “Kingdom of God” is a distinct feature of Matthew’s Gospel. Written in what is reference to as synagogue style Koine Greek, the author likely chose to use the term heaven instead of God for religious reasons. Jews at the time -- as with many Jews now -- do not use any words that would reference God or God’s name directly. This can lead to confusoin when reading the parables.
Another consideration is how we label the parables. The labels, of course, were not included by the evangelist but are, instead, the product of the editors who publish the various translations. Many refer to this section as the “Kingdom parables’ but it is probably more accurate to refer to them as the “day of parables.” Here Jesus is speaking in stark apocalyptic terms about the day of judgment and the coming of the Son of Man. The Kingdom of Heaven provides the backdrop for this Day of the Son of Man teaching.
When we use the expression “Heaven” our thoughts forward directly to the reflection on the eternal realm and the afterlife. Yet, as Matthew uses the expression hare, we would expect that he is connecting the Kingdom of Heaven to the community of believers – the Church. So, then, the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Church, is present in the world and preparing for this Day of the Son of Man, a Day of Judgment. Yet just because one is a disciple of Jesus, a member of the Church, does not mean that he or she is saved from the judgment on the Day of the Son of Man.
The warning here for us is clear, but complicated.
Satan- the evil one -works against the growth of the kingdom. What better way to disrupt the kingdom than to sow dissention in the Church?
Unfortunately, now as much as ever in the past 500 years, there is a great deal of dissention within the Church, and especially here in the U.S. the greatest challenge that comes from such deep-rooted dissent and distrust is that all parties involved believe they are in the right and that the other is leading the Church on the wrong path.
This causes much hubris and, in the media age where anyone can post whatever thoughts or opinions they have to be viewed by countless numbers of people, it also lays the groundwork for much scandal.
To understand the teaching of Jesus, as well as the dogma of the Church, requires an openness to the challenges of dealing with mystery and the paradox of faith. For many this is challenging.
Jesus speaks in parables precisely because they are meant to force us to think in ways in which we are unaccustomed. His teaching did not follow the precision of Aristotelian logic. The Church, over time, has created more precise formularies and creeds to explain the mysteries of faith. However, there are many aspects of faith and traditional assumptions and teachings that are not in fact precisely defined.
Our task as disciples is to remain faithful and to find that balance in the life of faith. As our hearts are open to the Word of God the Kingdom of Heaven can continue to grow within us and around us. We pray for the grace to be kept safe on the journey, so that on the Day of the Son of Man, we are invited to share in the Kingdom prepared for us.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.