Monday, July 27, 2009

I Will Open My Mouth In Parables.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1221), the account in Exodus of the crossing of the Red Sea, the story of the liberation of the children of Abraham from slavery in Egypt, prefigures the liberation wrought by Baptism. We go from birth with original sin through the waters of baptism to live out our lives, sometimes doing God’s will, but all too often falling back as did the Israelites.

Today’s first reading tells of the most egregious of these incidents:

Moses turned around, and came down the mountain, carrying in his hands the two tablets on which the Commandments were inscribed. The tablets were the handiwork of the LORD; the inscriptions were engraved by the LORD’s hand.

When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of battle in the camp.” Moses replied: “It is not the sound of victory, nor the sound of defeat. What I hear is the sound of singing.” As he drew near the camp, he saw the calf and the dancing. With that, his anger burned and he threw the tables down and broke them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. Then he took the calf they had made, melted it in the fire, ground it down to powder, which he scattered on the water, and made the children of Israel drink it.

Moses asked Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into so great a sin?” Aaron replied, “Do not be angry, my lord. You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, ‘Make us a god to be our leader. As for this fellow Moses, who brought us out of Egypt, we have no idea what has happened to him.’ So I told me, “Anyone who has golden jewelry, take it off.” Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it on the fire, and out came this calf!”

The next day Moses said to the people, "You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin." So Moses went back to the LORD and said, "Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written." The LORD replied to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin." (Exodus 21:15-24. 30-34)

In today’s gospel, Jesus proposed a parable to the crowd: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches." Then he told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed it into about half a bushel of flour until it worked all through the dough."  (Matthew 13:31-35)

Jesus never spoke to the crowds except in parables. This was to fulfill what was said by the psalmist: “I will open my mouth in parables, and will announce things that have been hidden since the creation of the world.”

In this gospel, Jesus instructs us on how we receive the gift of salvation, our membership in the Kingdom of Heaven. We go through our life, sometimes doing what God wants, and at other times, failing to do what God wants, because of our weakness and self-centeredness. While it is true that we are weak and self-centered, and we feel ashamed of our sinfulness. We tend to be judgmental of others, but we are often even more judgmental of ourselves.

Speaking of judgment, the truth is that only God can judge whether we have sinned, and if we have, whether our offense has been serious or trivial. We are not very accurate in making that assessment. The stories of many truly holy persons-- for instance,Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Faustina Kowalska and Theresa of Calcutta – suggest that what we like least in ourselves can be what God likes most.

The previous paragraph was written in prose. Prose is very useful for giving explanations. Yet sometimes, prosaic words are not adequate. Sometimes, we need pictures instead of words.

Children understand pictures much better than they understand words, which is why there’s a lot of pictures and not so many words in children’s books. But that isn’t only true for children. We dream in images, not in words, which suggests that, deep down inside, we are still children.

Jesus is the Son of God, and neither words nor images are necessary for Him to communicate with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is also the Son of Mary, through whom he shares our human nature. That is why Jesus spoke in parables, that is, in images. Jesus is trying to communicate heart-to-heart with us, his sisters and brothers. We are all children of God, younger brothers and sisters of Jesus.

In the Scriptures, God does not present himself to us as a Sovereign who demands homage and obedience under penalty of banishment from the Kingdom (although there are prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures and preachers in more recent times – especially in Puritan New England – whose language is deliberately intended to frighten people. It is no wonder that they speak in prose not in poetry.

Don’t try to explain today’s parable to yourself. Live with it. Get inside it – or let it get inside you. You are a child of God, and God wants to love you as his child. If you would like to experience God’s love to the fullest, then take to heart the word of Jesus, “Become like a little child.” Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to learn to call God Daddy. If you had a positive relationship with your dad when you were a preteen or a teen, that will help; if not, it might help even more. Allow the Child of God who told the story for the first time in today’s gospel to tell it you now, in the way a big brother would tell it to a younger member of the family. Don’t forget, if the Lord God of Heaven and Earth is your Father, then Jesus is your Brother, and your proper title is “Princess” -- unless it would more proper to call you “My Lord”.

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