Ordinary of the Mass
Twenty-fifth Sunday after
Pentecost—(Sixth Sunday after Epiphany)—18 November AD 2007
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
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.
In Saint Matthew’s Gospel this is followed by today’s parable about the
mustard seed and the measure of leaven.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
They are like a white marble burial vault—beautiful outside, but filled only
with death and corruption.
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
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
“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.”
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.