Friday, July 28, 2023

The Gospel Reading and Reflection for Sunday, July 30

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

13:31 He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;

13:32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."

13:33 He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."

13:44 "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

13:45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;

13:46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

13:47 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind;

13:48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.

13:49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous

13:50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

13:51 "Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes."

13:52 And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."

Unbridled Hope, Joy, and...Gnashing of Teeth?!* 
What I Learn from this Lesson

1. The nature of God's work is hard to see or notice amidst inner and outer noise
I want the silver bullet of spirituality (and of life). Who doesn't? But so much of what is offered is the clanging bell, the noise of the sizzling, crashing cymbal.* Big Box church has its way of offering excitement, spectacle and escape. But does it facilitate listening to God, who speaks in whispers and sheer silence? Not for me.

In contrast, these parables lead me to noticing something in the common things that speak of God. There is simple hope and joy in witnessing a tiny seed grow into a tree, hunting down and finding the lost coin. There's the way of yeast popping its way into the dough, a simple happening, but transformational. If you want to know more about God's kingdom, be ready to find the star- power of enduring hope, joy and transformation through these understated and accessible metaphors.

I once consulted with a Spiritual Director, a Sister, who asked me to explore what moved me to pray. For example, what was I doing and thinking and feeling immediately before I was moved to pray.  So many little things to name, things that led me to a deeper communion with God. 

It was a formidable, analytical assignment, because my default is to overlook the micro- mustard seeds or the small measure of yeast, transforming its way to something new and different. My temptation is lethargy, it seems. What's yours? Also called the "noonday devil," it's not always at noon that I encounter it.** It hinders the movement of hope and wonderment and joy. Lethargy blocks the inbreaking movement of God's love in and through me.

2. I learn that God's love is overwhelming and priceless.
What moves me to joy but the over-abundant love of God? Christian faith tells me that I am created out of love in order to love my neighbor as myself.  I am, and everyone who shares this earth, created as a result of God's love. We are God's, made in God's likeness. Bet the house on that!  Sell the house for that treasure. Sell the office for that pearl. All springing from joy, the fruit of being loved.

Throughout my journey I have been forced to look at my intentions. Why am I on the Christian journey? What, in the lost coin, do I really need to rediscover? How can any joy, service and kindness not be sustained by the One whose nature and name is Love. *** Without Love, there is no lasting hope or joy or service. When I am driven by guilt, shame, and a persecution complex , I create my own kind of hell (for me and others). 

3. I learn what to keep and what to throw away. 
In the readings for this Sunday and last, Jesus teaches that a furnace of fire, weeping, and gnashing of teeth will be the fate of evil and evildoers. These verses from Matthew are a stumbling block to many and rightly so. Even if metaphors of judgement, having the angels sorting out the harvest or separating the good from bad fish is without subtlety or grace. For today, I have a just thought or two.

I believe that part of our life review in this life and perhaps in the world to come, offers me a chance to review my life, choices, actions, and intentions in the light of God's love. In essence such an inventory is the final harvest, the separation of the good and bad fish. But, it's about me and only me, not about judging anyone else. I have come to believe that the real gnashing of teeth is here- on earth- in my refusal to live in love and clinging to what does not last and what cannot guarantee happiness. ****

*Drummers, wear earplugs early on when drumming. Take it from me, cymbals cause hearing loss. 
**The term "noonday devil" appears in Macrina Wederkehr's Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully through the Hours of the Day, Ave Maria Press, 2010.
***Come, Thou Traveler Unknown, hymn by Charles Wesley, Hymn #386, The United Methodist Hymnal, 1990.
****I only speak for myself; a life review is akin to the 4th and 5th Steps in Recovery. In my recovery, these Steps cover what was done to me by others as well as what I have done to others. Step 5 is telling that story, in compassion, to another human being, as well as my Higher Power. 

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