Looking within – Thursday, 17th week in ordinary time – Mt 13:47-53
There are two ways to approach today’s Gospel – with fire and brimstone towards others, or with introspection for myself. Let me choose the latter, not because I am afraid to play the ‘fist thumping preacher’, but because that method may be effective till one reaches the exit doors of the Church.
The seventh and last parable of chapter thirteen mirrors the second parable, the wheat and the darnel. Both parables draw their imagery from every day Palestinian occupations, namely farming and fishing. Both parables deal with eschatology or the end times. Both parables end with God’s reapers or angels who weed out the evil and sort out the good. The kingdom is not insulated from attack. We could either be attacked by Satan who plants evil, or we could be attacked from within; everyday people around us are plotting destruction!
There is no getting away from the reality of these parables as a whole. The seven parables allegorically attempt to cover the reality of the kingdom of heaven. It is a kingdom whose reality includes attack, search, temptation, and judgement. The kingdom is not all hunky dory and fearful as the closing parable may seem; it is not merely a parable of doom.
So what then is this parable about? Dragnets, as their name suggest were fishing nets which were dragged along the bed of the sea and in its wake, picked up everything. Made of flax cords, they were equipped with lead weights at the bottom and wooden floats at the top. In mentioning specifically the type of net, Jesus was telling us that the kingdom is not a place where people are picked and chosen; the kingdom comprises of all sorts. We don’t get to choose the people we want to live with in the world.
The parable could be seen merely from the perspective of the judgment of these unsavoury sorts, and just the thought of it might bring a supressed smile to our face. It seems fair after all, that people who plant a bomb or those who walk away having cheated an aged couple of their life savings, ought to be thrown into the deepest recesses of hell. To such minds, this parable justly speaks of what ought to be the penalty for evil people; the fiery furnace, as preached by Jesus.
But as I said, there are two ways at looking at this parable, without diluting its principal message. The parable is also one of assurance, especially to those who are just, kind and loving. God does not abandon His people even though we look for immediate pain relieving interventions in our life. God assures us that in the end, we who keep His ways of living, as Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount, will find a place in heaven while experiencing blessedness on earth.
Rather than merely turning this parable into religious triumphalism, it could become for us a moment for introspection. The parables can also help us look at the kind of soil we are! Assuming we are good soil producing thirty fold, can we pump up growth production to a hundred percent? Are we patient when surrounded by evil, do we let God’s justice prevail or do we become a ‘hell proclaiming’ religious vigilante? Do the parables invite us to search for true faith whose value is beyond measure even if that means we soil our hands in the bargain, or are we simply content walking down the ‘safe road’ to heaven?
That’s the beauty of a parable; the scope for exploration is limitless! Jesus gave us seven parables but left us enough food for thought in them for seventy years.
Fr Warner D’Souza