17th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year A)

Yet again, our Gospel passage from St. Matthew recounts the parables of Jesus concerning the ‘Kingdom of heaven’; this week, we hear Jesus comparing the kingdom to a field with a great treasure concealed in it, or a pearl of tremendous value. Those who discover this treasure or find this pearl ‘sell everything they had’ to buy the field or the pearl.

Jesus clearly tells us throughout the gospels that the Kingdom of heaven is not just a far off place that we are able to enter after we pass from this life. If we focus solely on that, then it is easy to slip into the mindset that God too is far off and impossible to encounter and live with on this side of the veil.

God’s kingdom begins here and now, in this life. God, the Creator and Lord of all is always present to His creation. Quite often it is His creatures that are not present to Him. This becomes quite evident when we see the horrible suffering inflicted on Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria; when we witness the fighting and killing in Israel and Gaza; when we hear of the violence in the Ukraine.

Perhaps we don’t consider this as evident in our own neighbourhoods or homes or communities; but it is just as apparent in those times and places when we are unkind to each other; when we select the bad over the good because it is ‘popular’ or ‘socially acceptable’ to do so.

We can’t fool ourselves into thinking God is not present all the time, calling His children to love and serve and care for each other, every day, everywhere. That is where the Kingdom of heaven, the Reign of God begins; here and now.

And in those times when we truly and deeply experience that encounter with God, it is indeed a tremendous treasure, an incredibly valuable prize – in fact, when anyone has a deep, authentic experience of God’s presence they would rather stay there than anywhere else; they would give everything up in that moment to remain there – to have that ‘treasure’.

While that treasure is something we should always be seeking and willing to sacrifice our own selfish pleasures for, it is not something that we can clutch and grasp and hold all to ourselves. It is meant to be shared, to be extended to all people. It is in this way that the Kingdom becomes self-evident in our world. It is in this way that we make those small steps towards reconciliation in our own day-to-day lives and, just perhaps, extend that sense of love and compassion and reconciliation to others.

God’s Kingdom does not enter into our lives when we don’t seek or desire it. It doesn’t become the ‘place where we dwell’ if we encounter that ‘treasure’ and decline the movement to possess it.

May God grant us the grace as individuals and as a people to strive for that treasure, and the generosity of spirit to share it with each other.

sunsetfield
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Advertisements

16th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year A)

Our gospel readings continue this week from where they left off last week, in the midst of a number of parables Jesus used to teach the people and His disciples, recorded for us by St. Matthew. Once again Jesus uses, among others, a parable involving seeds and sowing or scattering – but this time, rather than talking about the type of crop produced given the right conditions, He talks about the influence of different types of seeds, and the consequences of following those influences – and the ultimate destination of one crop over another.

In the first parable, Jesus talks about weeds among the wheat.  As He further explains later in this passage to His disciples, this first parable is clearly about final judgement; heaven or hell.  The wheat’s ultimate destination is to be gathered into the barn while the weeds are gathered and destroyed.  While we might be too caught up in our day-to-day living to concern ourselves with questions of eternal salvation or condemnation, it’s important to realize that, as in these parables, it is in our day-to-day lives that we determine the choice between those ultimate destinations ourselves.

All too often, it is possible to sow weeds among the wheat in our own lives.  We might plant the wheat of prayer, participating in the life of the Church, practicing almsgiving, charity and kindness.  We might volunteer our time to help out in food banks, seniors’ homes, hospitals and shelters.  We may make a special effort to assist one of our neighbours who has no way to get to appointments, or help out babysitting a friend’s child to help them take the time to focus on a particular task.  These are all good things.   Centred on Christ, these can all be great things.  They are all ‘wheat’ seeds, if you will, that carry the potential to influence those around us, to encourage them to do likewise, and to come to know Jesus in a practical, concrete way.

At the same time, though, we might allow ‘weeds’ to creep in and grow in the midst of that wheat.  If we offer to take on part of a neighbour’s burden, and then complain to someone else about how hard we have to work to help that neighbour; if we involve ourselves in ministry enthusiastically, only to find that since it wasn’t what we thought it should be like, we might participate haphazardly; we may be very active in a group that furthers the community work of the Church, yet gossip about how other people participate in that activity or community; we might preach to others how to keep God’s commandments and never make an effort to follow them in our own lives.

Each one of these ‘weeds’ can actually become the fruit by which we are known, and by extension, by which Christ and His Church is known in our own communities and circles.  These weeds take time to mature, but when they do, and we engage in honest reflection, we can – as the Master pointed out in the parable – uproot them from the ‘fields’ that are our lives, permanently removing them to ‘the furnace’ so that they don’t choke off the wheat or good crops, and thus poison whatever fruit we have to offer Our Lord in return for His goodness to us.

And just as weeds can spread beyond our fields, so our behaviour can spread and influence others.  We need to uproot these weeds so they don’t spread into the fields of others’ lives.  We need only to share the ‘wheat’, the good fruit produced by the seed of the Spirit that was sown in our own hearts by Jesus.  This is how we will be known truly as His disciples.

This is why we will be gathered into His barn.

100_2326

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

 

15th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year A)

One of the benefits of living in a rural area, is that when you drive in any direction, you pass fields.  These fields are covered this time of year with certain crops, or are pasture areas.  Of course, the fields themselves become known by the type of crop that is growing on them.  Think about it.

They are no longer just ‘fields’.  They are wheat fields, corn fields, soy bean fields; the fields are identified by what is produced on them. We do this with our recreation as well; we have baseball fields and football fields; in movies we have ‘Field of Dreams’ and looking into the darker side of humanity, we have ‘killing fields’.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew, Jesus teaches a crowd, and then His disciples about the Kingdom of God, using one of His best known parables, ‘the sower and the seed’.  In it, the seeds are scattered in a variety of places – fields if you will – and each one is identified by what it bears.  There is the shallow area where the word is greeted enthusiastically, but doesn’t grow into the depths of the ground.  Then there is the busy path area, where there are so many directions to follow where we try to accommodate so many competing priorities that the word is simply left along the way, trampled under by those competing interests.  Then, of course, there is the area or field with so many weeds – things that are deep-rooted that are not only of no benefit, but are actually harmful to the soul – that those weeds choke off any growth in the word.

Finally, there is the good soil, the good field which yields abundantly; where the word grows and spreads and takes over the field, so the field is known by that crop.

Perhaps it helps to consider the ‘Bible’ as we know it did not exist when Jesus taught this parable.  He wasn’t speaking about the ‘word of God’ being the Bible.  He was speaking about the ‘word’ or the ‘seed’ being the ‘word of the kingdom’.  That word, was that God desires reunion with His children, separated from Him by their own will and their own actions.  That word, that ‘good news’ is the news of salvation! 

That word, is THE WORD, spoken ‘in the beginning’; the Logos, the Living Word of God – Jesus.  That field that is prepared and fertile and ready to receive THE WORD, Jesus, is a field that will be known by the crop that grows on it.  A relationship with Jesus, nurtured and valued; Jesus welcomed into the depths of a fertile soil takes over that field.  The field yields an abundance of the fruits of a life lived in Christ, for Christ and with Christ.

Please God we could all be such fields!

100_0968

Praised be Jesus Christ now and forever!

14th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year A)

There are times in our lives when people try to help us; and although they mean very well, and have the best intentions, sometimes their help is really not so helpful.  We might have done this ourselves.  Sometimes it actually makes things more difficult or worse; particularly when something in our lives hasn’t gone well or the way we hoped, or even in a moment of loss.  They might respond to our loss with, ‘well you think you have problems, let me tell you what happened to me….or I know just how you feel; it’s just like the time ….´ If something good happened to you, something better happened to them – or if something bad happened to you, something worse happened to them.  They think this approach will help encourage us in getting through a ‘crisis’ or rough patch, when in fact, it doesn’t help at all.  We don’t feel like our load has been lightened at all – if anything, it’s become a bit heavier. There has been no help in carrying the load – the load has just shifted a bit.

 

In today’s gospel, we hear an offer to those who carry a heavy load or a burden, from Jesus.  But Jesus does not have an approach of saying ‘ let me take control of your yoke’; he is also not saying ‘carry my burden with me’; he says ‘take up my yoke and learn from me’

 

What kind of yoke could that be?  Perhaps we can reflect on that for a moment.  Maybe we’ve all seen pictures or videos of parts of the middle East, or Africa or central America, where people – usually the poor – are shown carrying loads of bricks or jugs of water.  Sometimes we see them balancing a stick or pole across both of their shoulders, with the load of bricks or the water buckets hanging of either side, balanced across their back. They’re people, but they must work as beasts of burden.  Often these images are associated with impoverished areas, where the people don’t have fresh wells, or running water.

 

When I picture the yoke that Jesus speaks of in today’s gospel passage, this is the type of yoke I think of.  It’s often a very heavy crushing load, a real burden, stretched across their shoulders and their backs.  And the people carrying it don’t have the benefit of someone to do their work for them, or machinery to carry their water or bricks, or even someone to help carry the yoke or load.

 

We all have a yoke – we all carry a burden of some kind; the loads that we carry are as varied as the people who carry them.   Sometimes those burdens don’t seem so difficult; other times, they are just too heavy for us to bear. Our burdens might be grief, or sadness or disappointment; they might be stress or worry, fear of loss;  our burdens are those things which move us away from God and each other; selfishness, ignorance, pride, apathy.  Whatever it might be, we can end up clinging to these heavy loads, these burdens, until they seem to threaten to crush us and drive us to despair; to give up all hope; to give up on people or even give up on God.

 

But Jesus says ‘come to me’ and ‘take up my yoke’.  He doesn’t ask what our burdens are, or our heavy loads are.  He doesn’t say only those who labour in this way, or set conditions on who can come to Him.  He says, come to me ALL who labour and are heavy-burdened. He says ‘come to me and take up my yoke’.  The point of this example of the yoke, is to really illustrate what Jesus is offering us.

 

With this type of yoke, the pole across the shoulders, if I am carrying this type of load, and I come to someone with a similar yoke, I cannot take theirs, or carry theirs, unless I let go of mine and put it down.  I have to put my load of bricks down in order to take up theirs.

 

This is precisely what Jesus offers; for us to take up his yoke, we need to release ours, to put it down.  When we weigh ourselves down with the desire for power or possessions; when we wallow in self pity or refuse to try to better our situation in life; when we deliberately neglect those in need, we actually feel weighed down.  We have a burden which is driven by fear; fear of losing that power, or those possessions, fear of having to try again no matter how difficult; fear of having to consider the needs of others before we consider our own comfort or convenience.  This fear moves us further away from others and from God. We have to stop clinging to grief or anger or disappointment – whatever our load consists of; if we want to take up His yoke.

 

And what could His yoke consist of?  What two counter-balanced loads could be on His yoke that would be so easy and light?

 

It’s love.

 

Love of God, and love of neighbour;  these are the two great commandments that Jesus stressed through His whole earthly ministry.  These are the burdens on either end of his yoke.  Love of God and love of neighbour.  But it is a load that is balanced – if we separate them and try to carry only one side, we get nowhere;  if our love is strictly for people to the exclusion of God, it is no more than a kind of social work, it is shallow and doesn’t last;  if we give our love only to God and refuse to be charitable to others, we fail to live as Christ commanded.  As St. John the evangelist wrote we cannot claim to love God whom we cannot see if we do not love our neighbour who we can see.

 

It truly is a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. It is a yoke that allows us to become fully human, fully alive.

 

But when we set aside all those things that draw us away from God and each other, we actually feel uplifted.  When we put that burden down, and reach out to take up that yoke that Jesus offers, we feel it is really no burden at all. It truly is easy and light.  But it doesn’t happen on its own.  Jesus makes the offer, but the first move is up to us.  It is up to each of us to identify those things in our lives that weigh us down; those burdens that we carry. Sometimes we can readily see those things that are our burdens; sometimes it takes more effort, that things we never thought of as ‘burdens’ really hamper our relationship with God.  But once we identify what that burden is, we can freely choose to lay it down or to cling to it.  Jesus doesn’t force us; He doesn’t say, ‘come close and I will take that burden from you and make you take up mine’…it’s an invitation, not an order.

It`s an invitation that we can freely respond to or not; an invitation offered in love; an invitation worth listening to again and again.

“Come to me all who labour and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

jesus and the angel in the garden 001

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!