Sunday, July 27, 2014

hope and warnings in some short parables

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Over the past number of weeks our Gospel readings have been covering a short section from the 13th chapter of St Matthew comprised mostly of parables. Last Sunday and the Sunday before they were long parables: the parable of the Sower; and the parable of the wheat and the tares. Today we have a number of very short parables, some so brief that they are only one verse long. Each on its own has an important lesson for us; taken together, in the order the evangelist presents them to us, they act to reinforce each other and provide an even greater depth of meaning.

He begins with the parable of the mustard seed, one that is familiar to us all; with the context of hindsight it reminds us of how from seemingly tiny beginnings Christ's Church spread out over the whole world. The kingdom of God is a mighty and unstoppable force. Much the same message is contained in the first one verse parable that follows, of the yeast and the flour. Just as a little yeast causes a great amount of flour to rise, so Christ's good news will spread out and change all the world. 

The next two parables, about the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price, also only one verse long, explain why this is so: to be a part of God's kingdom is something beyond price or compare; it is worth any effort to attain, because whatever it costs us to enter in is as nothing compared to what we gain. We hear much the same message in our Old Testament reading from Genesis where Jacob works for seven years so that Rachel might be his bride 'and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.' When you consider that this was hard physical labour, tending flocks and herds during the cruel heat by day and harsh cold by night of that desert place, it was love indeed that seven years would seem like nothing as long as at the end of them he might win so great a prize. And it is exactly thus that all our labours for the kingdom should seem to us.

And lest we lose the run of ourselves, filled with warm, fuzzy notions about the kingdom being something inevitable and fantastic prize that all you have to do is wish for it, the final parable, the longest of the five, contains a grounding and sobering warning: not all will enter into the kingdom. On that great and terrible day when God's angels come, they will separate the evil from the righteous. Only the latter will enter into God's kingdom. The rest will be thrown 'into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

But that should not be cause for alarm. As the psalmist tells us: 'Blessed are all those who fear the Lord, and walk in his ways … it shall go well with you, and happy shall you be.' Those who faithfully follow Christ's teachings have nothing to fear. And there is more reason for us to hope, weak though we may be and prone to fail and fall prey to the temptations that the world, the flesh, and the devil daily present us with; for as St Paul tells us in our reading from his letter to the Romans 'It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.' The Son of God himself not only prays for us, but intercedes for us to the Father. Can mercy be withhold from those who truly repent and long for forgiveness if the Son himself is the one who asks for it? I think not, for as St Paul goes on to tell us 'I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ and the hope that gives us of God's mercy at the last. But that does not mean that it will all be easy. The parable of the pearl of great price, the parable of the treasure hidden in a field, and the story of how Jacob has striven for many years so that he might have Rachel as his bride, warn us that hard work and effort is required. We must put our hands to the plough and not look back if we are to be worthy of the kingdom of heaven. But the effort will not be too much for us. As St Paul tells us 'If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?' God will supply the grace to all who will accept it to overcome all difficulties, even those caused by our own weak wills, so that at the last we may find ourselves in the place he created us to be – with him in heaven. Something that I pray for all here.

To him who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls, by whose wounds we are healed and who is with us always until the end of the ages, be glory now and forever. Amen

No comments:

Post a Comment