Kingdoms and Parables. Homily for 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Monsignor Charles Pope is the Pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian, a parish community in Washington, DC. He is a native of Chicago with a bachelor degree in computer science. He attended Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary and was ordained in 1989. A pastor since 2000, he has led Bible studies in the U.S. Congress and at the White House in past years.
In an article he wrote, “Sobering Spiritual Truths According to St. John of the Cross” (July7, 2020) Monsignor Pope lists a number of sobering thoughts from the Spanish mystic:
- The time is uncertain.
- Life is short and we do not get to choose when we will die.
- Death cannot be postponed
- This passing world is deceitful. The world is passing away. It cannot fulfill our infinite desires.
- Yet, we easily listen to the world’s seduction and lies.
- We go on presuming that almost everyone will go to heaven. We live so many years and so many hours of each day in ingratitude.
- We get all worked up and resentful about the smallest setbacks. Our ingratitude is obnoxiously massive because of the easy manner in which we mindlessly receive and discount our numerous blessings from God.
- Many live under the illusion today that salvation is a cinch. The opposite is true. Perdition is very easy and the accounting is strict. In parable after parable, warning after warning, Jesus speaks with sober admonition about the reality of Hell and the finality of judgment.
- Salvation is hard. This is not meant to panic us, but it is meant to sober us to the need for prayer, the sacraments, Scripture, and the Church. Without these medicines we don’t stand a chance.
- The wrath of God is not in Him. The wrath of God is really in us.
Monsignor Pope closes: “What are you doing to get ready to meet God? What do you get worked up about? What are you not concerned about? Are your priorities rooted in the truth that life is short?”
So it would seem that God is interested in “good people.” Those who perform wicked deeds will never enter the kingdom of heaven, right?
Not according to today’s parable in the Gospel of Matthew. Here we read about a rather unsavory character. He’s a trespasser. He’s a crook. He’s deceitful. And he gets the treasure! So, according to Jesus, unsavory, trespassing, deceitful crooks go to heaven? What’s THAT all about?
You have to understand what a parable is and what “the Kingdom” is.
What is intended when we read, “The kingdom of heaven is like …?” It does not mean that the parable is somehow about “getting to heaven.” The parable is not about the kingdom which is the place called heaven. The “kingdom of heaven” is Matthew’s preferred expression about a relationship, not a place. The Kingdom is the fresh initiative of God, inaugurated through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus—and still to be fulfilled completely in the future.
To understand parables, consider that Jesus told parables after some of his greatest miracles. People are coming to Jesus and saying, “Tell us about God. How do we live rightly? What does God want from us? Show us the Father.”
They already know the answer. The summary of Psalm 119: 137-144 says, “Since you know the will of God, act according to it and you will be blessed.” In Luke 10: 25-28, To the lawyer who asks, ‘What is the greatest Commandment?“ Jesus replies, “You know the law. How do you read it?” When the lawyer answers “Love God and love neighbor,” Jesus replies, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
The parables are Jesus’ way of calling them out. The people are not interested in God. They want more bread and more fish and more healings and more miracles. So Jesus says, “Ok, you want to know about God? The Kingdom of God is like…. men who do crooked things and get into heaven”
Jesus is saying, “Stop being dishonest. Stop trying to put God into a box. Stop coming to me as the great gift giver. You want to do the works of God. Ok, believe in the one God sent (John 6:29). The ones who really want the relationship with Jesus – and not just stuff – get it. Another group, like the disciples, don’t quite get it but they sense that this is important – even ominous. They’re a little afraid. So they pull Jesus aside and say, “Explain the parable to us.”
So who is Jesus attracted to? We get an answer in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 7:2-16).
Much like Paul, Jesus is consoled by the people’s repentance. Jesus pulls close to those who need him. Jesus is attracted to those who want to have that relationship with him in their hearts. Jesus is a savior to those who know that they need to be saved.
“Keep a place for us in your hearts. God comforts the miserable, and he comforted us.” Jesus loves those who come to him saying, “I am very happy knowing that I can rely on you so completely.”