A truth that must be proclaimed – Thursday, 17th week in ordinary time – Matthew 13:47-53
The Gospel text of today has the last of the seven parables found in chapter 13 of the Gospel of Matthew. The text of today also has a message meant for the scribes of the day and for the clergy of today.
The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught every kind of fish (verse 47). Right away we are reminded that the kingdom is not sanitised but is diverse and different. We would like to live in a kingdom of the righteous only but then again that would be wishful thinking. There are all kinds and all sorts in the kingdom.
Earlier, in the parable of the wheat and the weeds, Christ highlighted the presence of satan and his minions. Jesus used that parable to teach with authority the consequence of sin; sin will find us in the fires of hell. It is for the sake of those who continue to live in denial of the reality of hell that Jesus gives the second such parable.
A drag net was one of the many ways that fishermen employed to catch fish. Two boats would be fitted with a net and as they moved the nets collected every kind of fish that happened to get trapped. As fishermen will tell you, not every fish that is caught is edible and even more, there are some fish which have no value in the marketplace. Attempting to sell them would be a burden to the fisher monger.
When Christ spoke his truth, he used a pedagogy that is employed even today, when children are taught. It is a method of teaching that moves from the known to the unknown. Jesus’ parables were largely based on farming or fishing which was the occupation of most of his listeners. Employing this method, he made clear what he intended to teach. When he spoke to the crowds of his time, as he does with us through his word today, he wants us to understand that death will come as it came to the fish. Death did not just come to the bad fish it came to all that were caught in the net. But the point of the parable is not merely to focus on the reality of death but of judgment that follows.
“The angels will come!” That is what we will experience at death. But don’t think that because you see an angel when you die you have won a seat in heaven. We are told that they come with a clear mission. The dragnet may have caught fish but not every fish has value. There are good fish and bad fish and the bad fish must be got rid off.
For the second time in Chapter 13, Jesus talks of the ‘furnace of fire’ reserved for the evil. Interestingly, in both the parables that speak of judgment, the consequence of evil is clearly enunciated; ‘evil will be bound and burnt in a furnace of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (verse 30 and 50). Yet, heaven is not described with the intensity that hell is. The parable of the wheat and weeds refers to heaven as “my barn” and nothing more. The point of the parable is not to tell us of the joys of heaven but the reality of the suffering in hell.
To my mind, Christ is reiterating the reality of hell over heaven. He wants to stress this reality lest we begin to think that hell is a tool used by parents to drive their children into submission. Hell, for many, has become symbolic and casual talk. We say, “go to hell” or use it as an exclamation of frustration when we say, “Oh hell.” We have turned the fate of our souls into a piece of frivolous conversation. Yet that reality will come to burn us if we do not take it seriously.
This truth must be proclaimed especially when clearly understood. In verse 51 Jesus ask the disciples if they have “understood all this?” Their answer is yes. If our answer is also yes, then we become ‘the scribe’, the priest, the religious, the laity who then must proclaim this truth. If we are trained for the kingdom, as Christ says, then we have to proclaim the truth of Christ; both old and new.