A very large part of the teaching of Jesus is
given in parables. This is not something we are very
much used to today. We get most of our information from
newspapers and the television and they don’t go in much
for parables. In the modern world we are more interested
in facts and data rather than parables or imagery.
The thing about parables is that they are ambiguous; you can read almost anything you like into them. Parables are examples or stories that you can turn over and over in your mind constantly discovering new insights into them.
Jesus was speaking to people living in a quite different age to ours. The main mode of communication was speech, there were no newspapers or television or even very many books.
I was reading the other day about a supposedly very learned medieval monk and as proof of his learning it was said that he had read all the books in the monastery library: seven! I’ve got seven hundred books in my office alone and I don’t think that is a particularly large collection.
The people living at the time of Jesus were part of a largely oral society and storytelling was very important to them. Besides being a good way of passing the time, storytelling gave people something to think about; it helped develop their memories and gave them the opportunity to exercise a considerable amount of creativity.
Those parishioners with an Irish background would be familiar with the importance of the Shanakee, the storyteller or bard who kept the traditions of the clan alive, usually in the form of stories and narrative poems. I’m sure that every other culture has its equivalent.
It is therefore very understandable that Jesus would use parables to communicate his message in this very largely oral culture. Not all his listeners would fully understand what Jesus meant in every case but everyone would be able to find some nugget of wisdom in his stories.
Not only this, but parables do transmit down the centuries in quite an accessible way; even though we are far removed in time and geography from his listeners we understand quite well what Jesus means.
The two parables in the Gospel text today are not very complicated; they don’t have a particularly hidden meaning and they are fairly straightforward.
In the first one the seed is strewn on the land; it grows and it is eventually harvested by the farmer. The seed is us and the farmer is God. It is our job to grow and to produce a good crop which the farmer can harvest.
The other parable is very similar. Here the smallest seed of all grows into the biggest tree which in turn gives shelter to the birds of the air. Here the tiny seed represents the followers of Christ which grow into a great tree which can give shelter to the rest of creation.
Comedians say, ‘never let the facts get in the way of a good story.’ The same goes for parables; factually the mustard seed is not the smallest of the seeds and nor does it grow into the biggest tree of all. But we know what Jesus means and we realize that the choice of mustard is also significant since mustard has a strong flavor just as Jesus’ disciples ought to bring a strong flavor to the world.
What Jesus does is give images and examples so that even the simplest person can get the gist of his message. His parables are accessible to all even if some do not understand them fully at the first hearing. In time their meaning becomes more and more clear.
One of the things we notice about these particular parables is that there is no ambiguity in them. In the one case the seed is sown, it grows and is harvested. In the other, the smallest seed grows into the biggest tree and it gives shelter to the birds of the air.
The seeds do not go their own way; no, they do what they are supposed to do. The seeds sprout or grow into a tree; the seeds do nothing other than what they were intended to do. And this is another lesson for us.
Our problem is that most of the time we do everything other than that for which we were intended. We constantly go our own way and ignore the path that is set before us by God. We choose to indulge ourselves and to take the line of least resistance rather than doing what God wants.
We fool ourselves into believing that we can keep the largest share of our lives for ourselves and give only a small part of it to God. It is as if we are saying, ‘An hour on a Sunday will be enough for him.’
But God does not want only a small part of us. No, he wants all of us; he wants the lot. He does not want us to keep anything back for ourselves but rather that we should give everything to him. He does not want us to serve him only for an hour here or there. No, he wants us to serve him all the time.
The mistake we make is thinking that what we give to God is something that we take away from ourselves. But this is far from the case. The very words of Jesus tell us that we will be rewarded a hundred fold for whatever we do for God. But somehow we don’t believe it.
At this point our faith fails us and we feel it necessary to constantly hold back from giving God what he wants, which is all of us.
The lesson we need to learn is that God already owns us; he created us and it is only his power that keeps us in being, everything that we have comes from him in the first place.
If we show a true and deep generosity of spirit and hand our lives over to him then it will be completely transformative for us. We will be filled with the love of God and enabled to live grace-filled lives bringing joy to all we meet.
The lesson of life is that everything comes from God and everything returns to him. Our job is not to hold back anything for ourselves but to give everything freely and joyously to him who is our Lord and Savior.
Digest of Articles from Catholics Blogs and Websites
June 14, 2015
Eleventh Sunday: Trusting in God’s Time
Those of you who know me know that I have the basic New York attitudes of trying to do too much myself and wanting everything immediately. I would have made a terrible farmer. Even now I’ll go out to the flowers and say, “Come on, let’s cut the bud stuff and start blooming.” Farmers have to be patient. Farmers also have to recognize that they really can’t do things themselves. They have to depend upon nature.
The gospel reading, from Mark, contains two parables that farmers would certainly understand, but which drive city slickers like me nuts. The first is the parable of the seed. The farmer plants the seed and goes about his routine day, day after day. Eventually the seed grows, not because the farmer does something special, but because nature took its course. By the way, to the ancients every field of wheat, every flower, was a miracle of God’s hand. The second parable is that of the mustard seed which seems insignificant, but with the growth that God gives becomes a plant, probably 8 to 10 feet, large enough to shelter the birds of the sky.
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 4: 26–34
Jesus teaches the meaning of the reign or kingdom of God by way of two parables. In the first comparison, the reign of God is like seeds that a man plants in the soil. It is not the man, however, but the soil that makes the seeds sprout and grow in a way the man does not understand. In the second comparison, the reign of God is like the smallest of all seeds. Yet, once it has completed its growth, it is so large that birds can build nests in its shade. Mark mentions that Jesus further explained the meaning of parables to his disciples.
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B—Sunday, June 14, 2015
Liturgically, Ordinary Time is devoted to the preaching of the Kingdom of God. What do we need to know about it? Today’s Gospel gets us started.
Gospel (Read Mk 4:26-34)
St. Mark tells us that, when speaking to the crowds of people who clustered around to hear Him, Jesus described the Kingdom of God in parables. This is interesting, isn’t it? Parables need explaining (“to His own disciples He explained everything in private”). Why didn’t Jesus speak straightforwardly to the people who were curious about Him? The answer is partially revealed in what Jesus had to say in this reading.
How the Eucharist Saved My Life
When I first moved to Patheos, I wrote a blog post about how I received the Eucharist when I was still an atheist. I don’t want to rehash the issues surrounding that—at all.
But what I do want to go back to is how the Eucharist saved my life.
Families save society from barbarity, says Pope Francis
Families are weakened and destroyed by war, “the mother of all forms of poverty”, as well as by economies and policies that worship money and power, Pope Francis has said.
“It’s almost a miracle” that, even in poverty and crisis, the family can keep on going, safeguarding its bonds and staying intact, he said at his weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square.
Your “Most Solemn Obligation”
Without question, parents are the primary influence on the faith lives of their children. Study after study shows that when parents are strong spiritual leaders, and when fathers—yes, dads in particular—teach and witness the faith to their children, the kids are far more likely to grow up and live faithful lives themselves.
Here’s How to Be a Good Catholic. Oh, wait. It Isn’t That Easy
A popular blog about Catholicism, motherhood, and family culture recently posted a list describing “Exactly How to Be a Good Catholic.” The list includes such things as believing in
in God, the Father Almighty, the first person of the Trinity, who created Heaven and earth
and the requirement to
believe in and renounce Satan, not as a concept, but as a being
as well as opposing
abortion, euthanasia, sexual activity outside of marriage (be it heterosexual, homosexual, or solo), contraception, sterilization, polygamy, divorce, pornography, unjust war, and unjust use of capital punishment.
Comfort and Affliction
God often comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. For Israel, toiling under Pharaoh’s lash, the revelation to Moses is good news indeed: “I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:7-8). This Scripture has passed into the collective consciousness of Western Civilization as the archetypal word of comfort, hope and promise.
Today’s Man: Recreating the Garden of Eden
We had it all in the Garden of Eden.
Everything we relentlessly seek today was ours then, and we lost it. We lost it through one act of disobedience. One tree, one rule, one empty promise, one bite, and an eternal fall. We lost it by seeking to change the status quo, hungry for more than what we had already been given. We lost it by pursuing things reserved for the creator alone. Somehow, despite living in paradise, the allure of being “like God” was too much to resist.:
Why Does the Modern World Refuse to Listen to the Truth?
At times we can become frustrated with the modern world, especially when we see it turning away from the Truth. Why do people deny such basic realities of life, like marriage, for example?
If we are ever to combat the numerous lies that the world is eagerly following, we need to step back and look critically at our traditional means of evangelization. Something is obviously not working.
Catholic Religion Quiz, Part I
Some time back the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life put out a quiz in which atheists did better than Christians in answering some basic questions about such matters as “Which Bible figure is most closely associated with leading the exodus from Egypt?” (In case you were wondering, the correct answer was “Charlton Heston”. And if you believe that, odds are you are Christian and not an atheist—at least according to the Pew poll.) The reason atheists did better is that, being at war with all mankind about the thing that matters to it most, they oppose all theists and are wary of the whole broad spectrum of religious belief (though with a particular focus on Christ, to be sure). Christians, in contrast, can hold up their end when talking about Christianity, but have never boned up on Jewish, Mormon, Islamic, or Hindu teachings since, well, they’re Christian.
Why I Remain Catholic
There are so many times when I ask myself why the heck I am Catholic. Days like today when I have been told that I “should” do this or that, that I’m ignorant at best when it comes to the issue of transgenderism and that I am the worst Catholic a certain woman has ever encountered online. Why am I here? Why am I blogging? Why am I putting myself in the crossfire when so many people don’t hear what I am saying but take the one thing they have an issue with it and turn it into a weapon to wield back at me?
How the Beauty of Creation Can Lead a Soul to God
For the purposes of this series on the role of beauty in catechesis and evangelization, I will highlight four different expressions of beauty: creation, art, the liturgy and Christian witness. These four classes of beauty have great power over man but must never be separated from truth, lest they become idols and worshipped for their own sake.
First of all, the beauty of creation can have a great ability to open up the heart of man to belief in a creator. Saint Augustine affirms this effective tool of catechesis when he poses the challenge,
Prayer and Beauty, Love and Work
John Paul II greatly admired a poet named Cyprian Norwid. His poetry connected work, beauty and love with the task of being human, of living life to the full. Through this poet, Saint John Paul came to appreciate how men and women are meant to build bridges, to connect to one another and to God. These insights permeate many of his social teachings. Lifting our hearts to see what is beautiful, to allowing beauty to move us into love, this is also a good way to begin to pray.
How God Must See Us – As Depicted in a Commercial\
On one particular morning, just two weeks after His resurrection, Jesus stood on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Seeing the Apostles in a boat just off the shore, he said, Little Children, Have you caught anything? (John 21:5)
It is a rather strange way to speak to grown men: “Little Children” (παιδία = paidia = little ones, children, infants, the diminutive of pais (child), hence “little ones”). And yet how deeply affectionate it is.
We often think of ourselves in grander terms, terms that bespeak power, wisdom, age, and strength. But I suspect that, to God, we must always seem like little children.
Mary Meets Eve
My wife owns one of the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen. I describe it so not only for the aesthetic pleasure it gives, but because the scene it depicts is profound and sweet and sad and joyful all at once, and it requires true beauty to hold all of these together simultaneously.
In the center of a vertical frame stand two women, totally opposite each other. On the left is a woman covered only by her long brown hair, her head turned down and a look of sad regret on her face. A snake’s tail wraps around her foot.
On the right is a woman dressed in white and blue, quite pregnant, a kind smile on her face. She has her hand on the chin of the other woman, tilting her head up. And she stands on the snake’s head. The reader would not need too many guesses to discover that the women are Eve and Mary, brought together out of time to stand together as the two poles of salvation history.