I have been listening lately to people who say they would like to grow closer to God. Hmm, I find myself wondering what that means. How does one know or feel not close to God? How would one feel if they were fifty or seventy Godmeters closer? I suspect we would always want more and so in fact, feel distant. Come to think of it, we will not ever be close until some heavenly experience of inclusion.
We can prepare for this liturgy by our experiences of longing. That seems to be as close as we get on earth. Our longing for deeper communication, for soulfulness, for being understood are very good preparations for the presence of God in the liturgical community, in the liturgy of the Word and in the reception of God’s desire to be as close to us as our very bodies.
There is a theme of supplanting, literally in our First Reading for this liturgy. The verses we hear come at the end of the chapter and at the end of a long symbolic poem.
An eagle is pictured doing some planting of its own. Trees and vines are established by the eagle’s snatching them up by the roots and flying them non-stop to a foreign land. The eagle is Nebuchadrezzar, the king of Babylon who has conquered Jerusalem. After all this historical recounting of just how these vines and trees grew, the prophet speaks on behalf of God and tells these verses which form our First Reading.
This first parable of today’s readings has also a man scattering seeds. Parables are deliberately available to a variety of interpretations which make them both easy to remember and easy to provoke discussions.
Try this one out. The person scattering is God and the seeds are the teachings of Jesus and the land is those who have ears to hear. The growing without tending or cultivating is the heart of interesting pondering. Could it be that God, through Jesus does not force anybody to allow the seeds, (teachings) to be taken in personally... If so, does this mean that God doesn’t care, doesn’t assist with Grace to help the growing?
We are so like high school first-year English students studying poetry. “Why didn’t Emily Dickenson just come right out and say her insight with clarity!” We want, “Just the facts man.” Jesus does explain the use He makes of parables, they are employed to challenge those who cannot believe how God has come right out and said it in the person of Jesus.
We return to the second parable to read about a tiny mustard seed which is sown into the earth and grows to be the biggest of the shrubs. This is what the “kingdom of God” is like. Well how does that work? What’s the clear answer?
God is the sower, Jesus could be the seed, or maybe His teachings. Maybe the little seed represents the faith of the early church, or the apostles, or maybe just their little group. Perhaps Jesus is saying that their faith will grow, or the Church will grow or the “kingdom of God” will be that great growing thing in which all creation will find room and rest. So is that what Jesus meant? For those who had faith in Him, His disciples, they didn’t need parables, except they did not know that until He told them. Those who refuse the person of Jesus needed parables to find their reasons for believing.
Many concerned parents come to me worried about their teenaged sons and daughters who have announced that they no longer believe! Parables would not help much there, nor do clear statements of Theology, nor anger and feelings of failure and guilt. Jesus just kept living His life and asked the apostles and followers to do the same. Faith is not a mathematical conclusion, nor a resolution of the tensions caused by really good questions.
God keeps sowing, we are the soil, (Human comes from the Latin word for earth). Things grow slowly, but it is amazing how all creation wants to believe, but wants also to know and figure things out for themselves. Jesus put His followers in the question-tensioning from the get-go. Why should we be different! We do not like nor enjoy always the poetry of God and the parables God spins up for us. Faith is like deep love, we really don’t fall into it, rather, it sneaks up on us almost without our reasoning to it and so we actually fall out of doubt and questioning as lovers fall out of fear.
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