Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost—(Sixth Sunday after Epiphany)—18 November AD 2007


Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

    In many of the Masses in the season after Pentecost we hear about our Lord speaking in “parables”—“the kingdom of heaven is like this;  the kingdom of heaven is like that.”  Our English teachers used to call such phrases “similes”;  with simile being the Latin word for something being like something else.  Simile est regnum cælorum” is the phrase that starts out many of the parables in Latin.

    But, why did our Lord speak in parables?

    Perhaps the most common answer is that people in His time depended very much on oral histories and word of mouth transmission of information.  The Scriptures were written, of course, but very little else.  Even the Scriptures, which were written in Hebrew without spaces and vowels, required a word of mouth tradition to allow their proper recounting.  In such “word of mouth” cultures it is fairly common for a teacher to convert his lessons to the form of a simple story which is more easily remembered.  Sometimes the lesson is turned into a rhyme or even set to music—which is precisely what you have in the Old Testament Book of Psalms, which most Jewish men could sing from memory.

    You have probably noticed that the parables were always given in a familiar motif.  Often they have to do with agriculture and the countryside—the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, the lost sheep, the measure of leaven, the mustard seed that grows into a tree, and so forth.  These were things that the Jewish people dealt with on a daily basis, and could easily be expected to remember.

    But, strangely enough, our Lord gives a quite different reason for employing parables.  Last week we read a parable about an enemy sewing weeds among the wheat of a certain house-holder.[2]  In Saint Matthew’s Gospel this is followed by today’s parable about the mustard seed and the measure of leaven.[3]  Immediately thereafter, Saint Matthew tells his readers that Jesus “spoke to the crowds in parables;  without parables He did not speak to them, so that what was written by the prophet might be fulfilled.”  The prophet was King David, who wrote in the Psalms:  “I will open my mouth in parables.  I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.” [4] 

    And, on some level, these “things hidden since the foundation of the world” would remain hidden in the parables.  If you read a few verses before or a few verses after in the Gospel, you know that the Apostles asked Him to explain His parables.  He did so for them, but He pointed out that not everyone was deserving of knowing the meaning of the parables.  A certain section of the Jewish people had been blinded to the truth, as had been predicted by the prophet Isaias:  “the heart of this people has been hardened, and with their ears they have been hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed.”[5]

    Not only were some unable to see and hear and understand, but it is pretty clear God intends to keep them unable,” Lest they be converted” making God obligated to “heal them” from the hardness of their hearts.

    But doesn’t God desire the salvation of all souls?  Isn’t there joy in heaven over the sinner who repents?  Of course there is, and of course God does want life for the sinner, rather than death.  What we are seeing here—and in a number of passages wherein our Lord has to deal with the Pharisees—is the idea that the knowledge of God and heavenly things is a reward for Faith and moral behavior.  The Pharisees, and others like them, were hypocrites.  They went around trying to gain the respect of men by appearing religious, rather then being religious.  They boasted about themselves even before God.[6]  They “widened their phylacteries and broadened their tassels, and loved the first place at suppers, and the front seats in the synagogues  They want to be called ‘Rabbi’ by those whom they meet ... all their works they do in order to be seen by men.”[7]  They are like a white marble burial vault—beautiful outside, but filled only with death and corruption.[8] 

    And the bad example of the Pharisees was contagious.  “Even among the rulers, many believed in Jesus, but because of the Pharisees they did no acknowledge it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.  For they loved the glory of men more than they loved the glory of God.”[9]

    Before such a person can be enlightened with the knowledge of God and the Kingdom of Heaven, he must undergo a conversion of heart.  He must learn humility, recognizing that he is not the center of the universe, for that position is reserved for God alone.  He must learn faith and hope, recognizing that God is willing and able to raise him up from his abject condition if he is but willing to cooperate with God’s graces.  He must learn charity, recognizing that God must be loved above all else, and then his neighbor as himself.

    It should surprise no one that the Pharisees were not unique.  If we have not done so as yet, we too must undergo that same conversion of heart.  Our Confirmation class has learned that among the Gifts of the Holy Ghost are things like wisdom, and understanding, and knowledge.  These are free gifts of God, given to those who are Baptized and Confirmed;  to those who are in the state of grace, and who want to stay in the stare of grace;  to those who have been strengthened in faith, and hope, and charity by cooperation with God and His graces.

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”—another thing that the Confirmation class has learned.  But who are the “poor in spirit”?  They are the humble.  To quote Saint Augustine, “Presumption of spirit means rashness and pride.... Who does not know that the proud are said to be inflated , as if distended by wind?  Therefore ‘the poor in spirit’ are rightly understood to be the humble and the God-fearing.”[10]

    In the Gospels, the Pharisees are given to us as an example of what we must not be.  The kingdom of heaven belongs to the humble, and we must learn to be humble if we are to possess it.  We must learn to cooperate with the gift of God’s freely given graces.  We must do these things lest our ears fail to hear, our eyes fail to see, and our hearts hardened against God Himself.



[2]   Matthew xiii: 24-30.

[3]   Matthew xiii:31-35.

[4]   Matthew xiii: 33-35;   Psalm lxxvii: 2.

[5]   Isaias vi: 9 in Matthew xiii: 14-15.

[6]   Luke xviii: 9-14.

[7]   Cf. Matthew xxiii: 1-12.

[8]   Cf. Matthew xxiii: 27.

[9]   John xii: 42-43.

[10]   Augustine, Book i on the Sermon on the Mount.  Third Nocturn of All Saints day.


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