Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Parables of Jesus: The Conversion of a Scribe

Matthew 13:[52]:

He said unto them: Therefore every scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven, is like to a man that is a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure new things and old.

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Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Today's parable is the conclusion of several parables on the Kingdom of Heaven. I've talked about some of these, but not all of them. However, in order to understand this last, it has to be understood within the context of the full teaching.

Before I offer the full context, I will explain a little bit about the scribes. The way I had always understood this group of people in my youth was that they were copyists, or the ones who wrote things down, transcribers. This isn't actually correct.

We get the word scribe from a translation of the Hebrew word soferim, which meant what the English word scribe means: "one who knows how to write." However, this class of people were much more than mere writers. It is understood that only the highly educated, in ancient Judaism, knew how to write. So, while this is where their name comes from, it's really a surface-level description for who they were as a class in Jewish society.

The soferim were a body of teachers, and it was their job to properly interpret the Law for the people. So, whenever you read about a Scribe in scripture, this is the kind of person who's being talked about--someone very well versed in Jewish Law, and who teaches the people what the correct interpretation of the Law was.

This is important to know, because it is this kind of person that Jesus is talking about in this parable.

So, let's recap on Jesus' teachings on the Kingdom. So, this parable I have taken from Matthew 13. In this chapter, Jesus gives a series of seven parables that describe what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. This is the final, eighth, parable in that series. However, unlike the previous seven, which described what the Kingdom is like, this final one describes what a Scribe is like, who has been instructed in the Kingdom.

In Chapter 12, Jesus goes through a series of challenges from the Scribes and Pharisees. He, more than once, upbraids them for their hypocrisy and blindness. This chapter seems to be a follow up to that. Though the scribes are blind and hypocritical, if there are any that could be properly instructed in the Kingdom, they would be like "a householder, who brings out of his treasure new things and old." So, there is hope for them.

The seven parables here are these:

The first two parables are about the individuals who will reside within the Kingdom up to the time of the harvest.

The Sower and the Seeds - Jesus explains that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a sower (Himself) who, going along, drops seeds (the Word) on different types of soil (by the wayside, on stony ground, on thorny ground, and on good ground). The essential teaching here is that, in the Kingdom, people receive the Word differently, based on the state of their hearts, and the circumstances of their lives, and it is only a portion of all who hear the Word who are properly disposed to have it bear good and lasting fruit in their lives. There are three things here that Jesus says are necessary: to hear the word (receive it into one's heart), to understand the word, and to have it bear fruit in one's life. 

The Wheat and the Tares - Jesus explains that the Kingdom is like a sower who, having planted wheat in his field, had an enemy come into the field at night and sow tares among the wheat. Tares are basically weeds that look very similar to wheat. The sower tells his servants not to uproot the tares lest they also uproot the wheat, but to allow them to grow together until the time of harvest, when the wheat will be separated from the tares, and the tares will be bundled up to be burned. What this means about the Kingdom (the Church), is that within it there will be those within the Church who look and act like Christians, but are wicked in the their hearts, and agents of the enemy. Jesus says that they must be allowed to live in the Church, lest, driving them out, the His own children might be lost with them.

The next two parables are about the Kingdom as a whole body.

The Mustard Seed - The Kingdom is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, which, when fully grown, becomes a great tree which the birds of the air come to, and rest in its branches. Therefore, the Kingdom will begin small and seemingly insignificant in the face of the great world powers, which history can certainly attest to, but in the fullness of time, it will grow to become a great tree, as indeed it has.

The Leaven in the Meal - The Kingdom is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened. Elsewhere, Jesus uses the imagery of leaven to describe doctrine or teachings (i.e., beware the leaven of the Pharisees). With that in mind, it seems that what Jesus is saying here is that the fullness of true Doctrine will be hidden in the meal, that is, in the Law and Jewish Tradition, which in time will be fully expounded in the Church.

The next three parables are about Jesus' own action in establishing the Kingdom, and for whom He came.

The Treasure in the Field - The Kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man finding it, hides it, then goes and sells all he has so that he can purchase the field. The man is Jesus, who, giving up His Divinity, comes to earth (the field) and purchases it (redeems it) through His sacrifice. The treasure is the people of God, the nation of Israel.

The Pearl of Great Price - The Kingdom is like a merchant seeking good pearls, who, having found one, goes and sells all he has, to buy just the one. The Pearl of Great Price is the great Mother of God, the Virgin Mary. Again, Jesus is the merchant who gives up His Divinity to purchase (redeem) the Pearl.

The Dragnet - The Kingdom is like a net cast into the sea, which, when it was full, was taken back to shore, and the good fish separated from the bad. The sea signifies the nations, the rest of the people of the world. The net has been cast, and at the end of time, the good fish will be separated from the bad, the righteous will be separated from the wicked.

Do you understand all these things? Therefore, every scribe that is instructed in the Kingdom is like a man that is a householder, who brings forth out of his treasure new things and old. What is the treasure of the scribe? It is his expertise in the Law, and the proper interpretation of it. When a scribe is instructed in the Kingdom, being an expert in the Law, and having knowledge as to how to properly interpret it, he will bring forth old wisdom regarding the Law, as well as new.

The point here is that, despite Jesus' repeated admonitions of the scribes, He's not condemning Jewish Law, or tradition. His Kingdom does not represent a break in their history and tradition. He's not proposing something radically new to them. Rather, the reason the scribe can bring forth both old and new treasure, when properly instructed in the Kingdom, is because there is a continuity between the old and the new, and the scribe's expertise in the Law will bring the new out of the old in a continuity of tradition.

Therefore, it is good to understand the Jewish roots to our Faith, since Jesus fully expects that the "old" will be brought forward into the Kingdom, just as there will be a newness to it.

God bless, and thank you for reading!

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.

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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!