Thursday, July 24, 2014

“We are free to choose our paths, but we can't choose the consequences that come with them.”

“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.” ― John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Gospel Text: (MT 13:10-17)
The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Why do you speak to the crowd in parables?”
He said to them in reply,
“Because knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven
has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.
To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich;
from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
This is why I speak to them in parables, because
they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.
Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:

You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted
and I heal them.

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.
Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Comedian Buddy Hackett used to quip, “My mother’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.” Today’s Gospel reading presents the same alternatives, but about something infinitely more important than food preferences. Will we take Jesus and his teaching or leave it?

By this point in Matthew’s Gospel, those who have been listening to Jesus are making choices. The “leavers” refuse to repent; some are even plotting his death (Matthew 11:20-24; 12:14). The “takers” are opening their hearts to Jesus and his message. Yet these disciples are confused about his teaching style. Why not speak more directly? Why use parables?

Jesus’ answer—“because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand” (Matthew 13:13)—highlights the deliberate rejection of the “leavers”; they have already blocked their ears and are now experiencing the consequences of this choice. Commenting on Jesus’ approach, St. John Chrysostom explains: “We ourselves do this all the time. When we see someone listening inattentively and can’t persuade him to listen at all, then all that remains is to be silent. If we continue, even his inattentiveness is aggravated. But for someone who tries to learn, we continue on and offer much.”

So is Jesus giving up on those who reject what he offers, like Mother Hackett telling her kids to “take it or leave it”? Not at all! Jesus wants everyone to receive the good news of the kingdom. This is, in fact, why he speaks in parables. These surprising, often puzzling comparisons are teaching tools that can jolt people and provoke some thinking and changing. A shepherd who abandons the whole flock to search for one stray? A harvest of a hundredfold, when a yield of seven and a half was normal? These surprising stories suggest fresh, new possibilities about what God and his kingdom are like. And they invite everyone to respond accordingly.

So come to Jesus’ table with a “take it” attitude, hungry for every word he offers. If you want to be nourished, “more will be given,” and you “will grow rich” in understanding (Matthew 13:12).

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