Friday, January 5, 2018

The Parables of Jesus: The Hidden Treasure, The Pearl Of Great Price, and The Net Cast Into The Sea

Matthew 13:44-48:

[44] The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in a field. Which a man having found, hid it, and for joy thereof goeth, and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. 

[45] Again the kingdom of heaven is like to a merchant seeking good pearls. [46] Who when he had found one pearl of great price, went his way, and sold all that he had, and bought it. 

[47] Again the kingdom of heaven is like to a net cast into the sea, and gathering together of all kind of fishes. [48] Which, when it was filled, they drew out, and sitting by the shore, they chose out the good into vessels, but the bad they cast forth.


Image taken from https://theslumberingbride.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/pearl_of_great_price.jpg


Praised be Jesus Christ!


Now and forever. Amen.



2018 is here, and I believe it will be a good year! So, to kick it off, I am continuing my series on the Parables of Jesus with a three-in-one blog post in which I will be covering three parables together. The three parables are those quoted above from the Gospel of Matthew, and are all interrelated. 

I have to admit that in the past, when hearing the first two of these parables, I always misunderstood them. My understanding was something like the following:

I am supposed to be the man who's found the treasure hidden in the field, or the merchant seeking pearls, who, when finding the Kingdom of God, ought to give up his whole life to come to possess it. And on some level, that's probably an okay way to read it, because really, that's the kind of passion that we really ought to have for the gift God has given us.

However, after I examined more closely the surrounding context, I realized that this isn't what Jesus was getting at, at all. See between each parable is the word "again" (verses 45 and 47). The implication here is that the second and third parables are reiterations of the first. That's clear and obvious with the second parable--it reads very similarly to the first. The third parable, however, seems somewhat out of place, and seems to be saying something a bit different. And it is, a little bit, but the main thought is still the same.

Jesus explains this last parable in the following verses:

Matthew 13:[49] So shall it be at the end of the world. The angels shall go out, and shall separate the wicked from among the just. [50] And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Now remember, these parables come immediately after Jesus explains the parable of the Wheat and the Tares, in which the same message is given: at the end of time the good will be separated from the bad, and the bad will be burned.

So, Jesus is continuing his teaching from before, and is restating this teaching using three more parables. So, how do we understand the first then? If we read the field in the same way as from the parable of the Wheat and Tares, then the field is the world. Jesus, then, is the man who goes and sells everything (emptying Himself of His Divinity) and purchases the field (redeems the world) for the sake of taking possession of the hidden treasure.

So, in this reading, what is the hidden treasure? The hidden treasure is the righteous man. Jesus tells us that, on finding the righteous man, he has given up everything to buy the whole world just so He can take that righteous one unto Himself.

And again, Jesus is like the merchant seeking good pearls. When He finds just one of great price, He sells everything to buy it. When we take these two parables together, there is a deep theological reality that is drawn forth. In the first, Jesus sells everything to buy the field (the whole world), but in the second Jesus sells everything to buy the one pearl of great price (the individual). But remember that it was for the sake of the individual (the hidden treasure) that the field was purchased. 

What we see here are the grains that make up the theologies of Redemption and Salvation. Jesus redeems the world (purchases the field), and saves the individual (purchases the pearl), and the redemption of the world isn't for the salvation of the world, it's for the salvation of the individual (the hidden treasure). These actions, redemption and salvation, however, are not two separate actions on Jesus' part. They are one. He sells everything and makes His purchase. He incarnates and offers Himself as sacrifice.

The comes the third parable. Having accomplished His work, transacted this sale, He then "casts a net into the sea". The sea represents the peoples of the world, and the net is the Church. Notice, that caught in this net are both the good fish and the bad fish, and they are drawn up together. Let this be clear to all who read it. The Church is the net of the Lord, and it is filled with both righteous men and wicked men. And at the end of the world, the bad fish will be cast out, and the good fish will be kept.

Let us return to the previous two parables, applying the same logic. The field will be purchased, and only the hidden treasure will be kept. The man didn't purchase the field for its own sake, but for the sake of the treasure. So, once taken, the man no longer has use for the field, and it will be left behind. The merchant purchased only the pearl of great price. All of the remaining pearls will be discarded.

The hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, the good fish, these are the Children of the Kingdom. The field, the cheap pearls, the bad fish, these are the children of the wicked one. By Baptism we become the Children of the Kingdom, but let us be wary of great sin, because it is by such sin, sin that is deadly to the soul, that we become children of the wicked one.

God bless, and have a virtuous 2018!

As always, thank you for reading!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: Tares Sown Among the Wheat

Matthew 13:24-30:

[24] Another parable he proposed to them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seeds in his field. [25] But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 

[26] And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the tares. [27] And the servants of the goodman of the house coming said to him: Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? whence then hath it tares? [28] And he said to them: An enemy hath done this. And the servants said to him: Wilt thou that we go and gather it up? [29] And he said: No, lest perhaps gathering up the tares, you root up the wheat also together with it. [30] Suffer both to grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the tares, and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn.


Image taken from: https://allthechildrenoflight.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/wheat-tares_jenner1.jpg


Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.


Once again, I apologize for taking some much time away from this blog. I can't even say I have a good excuse for it either. I'm currently not working, so I have plenty of time on my hands. Well, anyway, here I am, working on another of Jesus' parables.

This one is actually really easy for me, mainly because Jesus actually explains this parable in the Gospel. Far be it for me to think I can explain it any better than He can, but I will, I think, add some commentary that I find interesting, that may add some depth to the reading that might otherwise not be there--mainly because our society has lost a sense of what was commonly known back then, and didn't need explanation.

First, in case you were wondering, "tare" is a kind of weed that looks very similar to wheat, as you can see from the picture. You probably gathered that from the context of the parable itself, though. I just thought I'd clarify in case it was a lingering question in your mind. The Douay Rheims translates this word to "cockle", which is also a weed, but is characterized as stinky or noxious. For the sake of this post, I'll consider both kinds of weeds here, since they both add something to the parable that either alone does not.

So, this is one of a number of "seed" parables that Jesus offers in quick succession, each revealing a different aspect of the Kingdom. After Jesus has given these parables, and the crowds go away, the Disciples ask Jesus to explain this one in particular. This is what He says:

"[37] Who made answer and said to them: He that soweth the good seed, is the Son of man. [38] And the field, is the world. And the good seed are the children of the kingdom. And the cockle, are the children of the wicked one. [39] And the enemy that sowed them, is the devil. But the harvest is the end of the world. And the reapers are the angels. [40] Even as cockle therefore is gathered up, and burnt with fire: so shall it be at the end of the world. 

[41] The Son of man shall send his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity. [42] And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. [43] Then shall the just shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." (Matthew 13:37-43)

Just one more word about the image of tares and wheat here. It is an interesting feature of these two plants that, though they are similar looking, as they ripen they become distinct in this way: the wheat stoops under the weight of the seeds, so it looks like it is "bowing" and it changes color (from green to tan), while the tares remain upright and green. As an image, it reminds us that we can recognize the Children of the Kingdom by their humility, and the children of the wicked one by their pride.

One thing that I often hear from very well-meaning people, who have the best interest of the Church at heart, is the notion that we ought to be excommunicating all these horrible Bishops and so-called Catholic politicians. However, what we're told, pretty well explicitly in this parable, is that God has deliberately allowed the corruption to have grown within His Church (and the wider world, of course). It was the enemy, the wicked one, who sowed these "noxious weeds", but God has chosen to allow them to grow together with the Children of the Kingdom.

But why? Isn't the danger of allowing them to grow together with the wheat that they will choke many of the wheat plants to death? Yes, but there is a greater danger in rooting them out, as we see in the parable: No, lest perhaps gathering up the tares, you root up the wheat also together with it. Removing the tares carries the greater danger of losing the wheat as well, and then there will be no harvest at the end, no souls to take to heaven.

What does this look like, in practical terms? Remember that the wheat and the tares look very much alike. Unless you are a seasoned farmer, you very likely would confuse the two. The idea here is that, in excommunicating a bishop for heresy, for example, during an age of the Church when most people are not very theologically knowledgeable, you may lose entire congregations of the lay faithful who love and are loyal to that bishop. Or perhaps you excommunicate a popular politician for promoting the use of contraception during a period when there is widespread confusion about the morality contraception. You may lose an entire country. What Jesus is telling us here is that it is better that only a few are lost, than all. Of course, that's not a callous disregard for those few souls that do become lost. We know that Jesus desires all souls to be saved. Nevertheless, in administering His Kingdom, and allowing us our freedoms within that Kingdom, He exercises practical judgments.

But who are the children of the wicked one? In His explanation, Jesus says "they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity." So, Jesus gives us two broad categories: scandals and workers of iniquity. A scandal, generally speaking, is an immoral action that has one of two outcomes: 1) it causes the scandalized person to believe that the immoral action is actually good, or at least amoral, or 2) it causes the scandalized person to believe that the organization (in this case the Church) that the person represents is an evil organization. It should be noted that someone who causes scandal doesn't necessarily intend scandal, and may not even realize what he is doing is wrong. A worker of iniquity is someone who deliberately sins and does wickedness.

This is a severe warning, in my opinion. Why? Because it means that it is incumbent upon us, the faithful, to ensure we do not cause scandal. If we are lackadaisical in our Faith, and don't ensure that what we are doing is virtuous and just, or that we are teaching the true teachings of the Church, and we, even inadvertently, cause scandal because we're doing something immoral, or passing on false doctrines in error, then we will be bound up and burned along with the doers of wickedness at the end of time. It is our duty, our obligation, to ensure that what we shine forth is only the goodness and truth of the Gospel. For, being Christians, we represent always, in everything that we say, and in everything that we do, Christianity, and the Lord Christ whom we serve.

There is, however, another aspect of this parable that I think needs mention. Jewish hearers of this parable might have been reminded of another story from the Tanakh: the story of Job. I will assume for the sake of brevity that you are familiar with the story of Job. During Job's trial, he defends himself, asserting strongly that he has been just in all things he has done. In chapter 31, Job begins listing curses that should be laid upon him, if he be found guilty of a number of various sins. The chapter ends with "[38] If my land cry against me, and with it the furrows thereof mourn: [39] If I have eaten the fruits thereof without money, and have afflicted the soul of the tillers thereof: [40] Let thistles grow up to me instead of wheat, and cockle instead of barley."

Remember that in Job's time, it was commonly understood that if you were a virtuous man, then God blessed you with wealth and a large family and good health, etc., but the immoral man was cursed by God with disease and poverty and loss of kin, etc. Job had suffered great loss, which is why he was on trial. His neighbors believed he had sinned greatly, but he was adamant he was an innocent and just man.

I will say two things about the Job connection to this parable. First, keep in mind that the external appearance of a man does not reveal the worth of his heart. A man, whether he be a cleric or a lay person, should be tested against the truth of the Faith, and not by whether or not he's healthy, or rich, or popular, or accomplished, or well-traveled. Second, if we are living in a time when the field is filled with tares, keep in mind that, though it was the enemy who planted such seeds, God may very well have permitted this as punishment for our own unfaithfulness to His Gospel.

If you want my opinion, the ravages that have swept through the Church since the Second Vatican Council reveal to us that perhaps the faith didn't run so deeply in the hearts of Catholics than we might have supposed it did. I see, however, that the envisioned renewal is indeed taking root, especially among many of our young people.

The field is awash with tares right now, but Jesus revealed to us 2000 years ago, in this very parable, that He is still in control of the harvest. Rejoice in the Lord of the Harvest!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: Return of the Unclean Spirit

Matthew 12:43-45:

[43] And when an unclean spirit is gone out of a man he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and findeth none. [44] Then he saith: I will return into my house from whence I came out. And coming he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. [45] Then he goeth, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is made worse than the first. So shall it be also to this wicked generation.


 
 
Praised be Jesus Christ!
 
Now and forever. Amen.
 
 
Boy oh boy, hasn't it been a while? Summer was very busy. Then I was working two jobs. Well, I figured it was about time I got back to this. If you were wondering where I was, I apologize, and I thank you for your patience.
 
So, if you've read my last post recently, you'll realize that I've already talked about this passage. In my post on "The Tree and Its Fruit", I talked about the fact that the house in this passage refers to ourselves, and the house swept and garnished house is a man living with virtue, but being empty, he is devoid of the life of grace, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, since I have already talked about this, I will talk instead about another layer of meaning that the passage holds. Whether we're talking about this, or any other passage in the Bible, there is never one single meaning that it holds. God's Word is layered with meaning, and you can reflect on each teaching of Scripture time and again and take something new from it, something deeper, every time.

As I like to say, context is everything. So what's the context here? Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for their unbelief and testing of Jesus. They are trying to trap Jesus in an error, in a sin. But Jesus responds by revealing His authority, and His greatness. "And behold a greater than Jonas here[...] and behold a greater than Solomon here."

This is the wider context. So, while Jesus' teaching can be understood on an individual basis, for we are indeed Temples (houses) of the Holy Spirit, His teaching is given in the context of the House of Israel. In this teaching, Jesus says repeatedly, "this generation". So, it isn't even just a rebuke of the Pharisees, but of Israel at large.

And Jesus doesn't make this criticism once, but many times, especially in His parables of the vineyard. Throughout the history of God's Covenants with man, God remains faithful, but man does not. In each generation, God sends His prophets, His angels to warn the people against their sins, to turn back to Him in faithfulness, remembering the promises of God, and the inheritance of their forefathers.

Repeatedly, God comes to His people to drive out wickedness from them. His desire is to turn their hearts back to Him, that Israel might be His dwelling place. He desires to live among His people. This manifests most tangibly in the Tabernacle of the Temple, where God's presence resides in the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies.

As a people, as a nation, as a Kingdom, God chose to dwell in their midst. He was the heart and soul of Israel, and their whole lives revolved around Him, around worship in His temple, around the seasons and holy days according to the Law. He permeated their lives.

But, when Jesus came to Israel, what did He find? "An evil and adulterous generation." Yahweh had come to drive out devils from the house of Israel, but the devils came back and made Israel worse off. The Roman occupation was symbolic of this. As a nation and as a kingdom, Israel's history shows us that whenever Israel turned away from God, were unfaithful to the Covenant, God allowed a neighboring power to come in and occupy their land. When Israel turned back to God and remained faithful to the Covenant, they were liberated, and Israel became strong again.

In this generation, Rome had occupied Israel, a symbol of their unfaithfulness. To bring God's people back to Himself, He always sent them a prophet, who was often not well received. And in this instance, it was not any different. The Pharisees and the people of Israel left their house empty. They turned their backs on God, and drove Him from their midst. They turned His temple into a market, as they assimilated into Roman society. They were adulterous because they courted Roman cult and culture. The Jewish leaders made deals with the Roman rulers. The Jewish people wanted liberation, but were not interested in turning their hearts back to God.

So, God departed from them. The devil who had been driven out represents the occupying nations from Israel's history, and the Romans are the return of that devil, and more, since the Romans brought with them all the cultures they had conquered: the Greeks, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, etc. And that tangible realization of God in their midst, the Temple, was destroyed by the Romans. God departed from them.

But Jesus instituted a Church, a new house, built on the Rock of Peter, the Rock who is Jesus, Himself. Against this house the gates of Hell will not prevail. No devils will prevail against this house. This Church will house the Holy Spirit, who will never depart from it, because the Church is Jesus, Himself, who cannot be separated from the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, the Church is not exclusively Jesus. It is made up of imperfect members. Both individually and as a visible body. Therefore, we should take the warning and take it seriously. We must be a holy people, a Kingdom that is not adulterous. We should not unite ourselves to the world. Our cult and culture should be distinct. We ought not to conform ourselves to the world, but ought conform the world to Jesus Christ.

Let the Lord stand at the center of our Church, our kingdom, our nations, our families, our lives. Let our lives revolve around the Mass, the Liturgical Seasons and Holy Days. Let the Lord dwell in our hearts and in our homes and in our churches and in our legislatures and in our courts and in our universities. If we do not, the Lord will depart from us.

Thank you for reading.