The Kingdom of Heaven is like a Dragnet…
The Gospel from the last two weeks, as well as this Sunday’s Mass, comes from Matthew chapter 13. “Okay, yip, sounds good, but what does that mean,” you might say… Friends, context is everything when it comes to interpreting the Word of God which was written 2000+ years ago. Everything in the Bible was written in a specific time, for a specific purpose, and with a specific audience in mind; that means we often need to work hard at realising what God might be saying to us today in 2023.
Matthew chapter 13 is known as the Parable Discourse because the entire chapter is made up of Jesus sharing – and twice interpreting – seven parables or stories. Parables are designed to cause us to think hard about our place in them – in this case, about how we both seek out and contribute to making the Kingdom of Heaven a lived reality in the world today. Two weeks ago, we heard that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a sower going out to sow, scattering seed everywhere in the hope that it lands in the good soil of our lives. Last week, we heard that it is also like darnel (weeds), growing among the wheat, and like both a mustard seed that becomes a shelter for all, and yeast that causes bread to rise. None of these parables are the same and so straight away, there are many ways for us to approach our place and, importantly, participation in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Today’s Gospel features three parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. The first two – searching for treasure in a field and a pearl of great value – give us some sense of the Kingdom of Heaven’s value and what a person naturally does when they discover its value. The point of these short parables is that people – you and I – are meant to actively search for and seek out the Kingdom of Heaven in our lives, and then sell everything to buy the field or pearl—to carry on the metaphor— because we value it more than every worldly thing we have. There is an obvious connection here with the reaction of the disciples who left everything to follow Jesus when he called them from their fishing boats. Also, and quite obviously, we cannot buy our way into the Kingdom of Heaven, but we can, and should indeed, actively search for it and completely reorientate our lives when we discover its great value. This is the most natural reaction in the world to discovering and indeed experiencing the great value of the Kingdom of Heaven – which is to say, experiencing a personal, intimate, life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ.
The question is arising for some people in the parish at this time, however, around what exactly this personal relationship or encounter with Jesus looks like – and it’s a good question. Perhaps the easiest answer is that it will be experientially different for everyone. As an individual, I, Fr Josh, often experience intimacy and/or a taste of the love and joy of God when I am given the sense of God’s powerful presence. This happens most often in my daily personal pray when, reading and listening to Scripture, Jesus shines a light on a particular area of my life. I have also experienced, on occasion, a wave of love or joy washing over me in prayer for no reason at all – pure gift. In all these things, I experience a personal intimacy with Jesus that is given in a supernatural way. For many people, their primary encounter with Jesus is in the Eucharist which, in and of itself, is the most explicit and intimate encounter with Him. Yet God also gifts us with the senses and intellect to encounter Jesus personally and powerfully in numerous ways that can also nourish us – particularly and perhaps primarily in personal private prayer. Indeed, while some people I have spoken with—even in our parish— have had powerful encounters with Jesus, I have not. My encounters with Jesus in prayer, however, have greatly enhanced both the value – like the pearl of great value – I experience in the Eucharist, and my belief that the consecrated bread and wine have truly become Jesus’ Body and Blood. So whether you encounter Jesus powerfully in the Eucharist, or your experience of Eucharist is enhanced by what you are given in prayer, music, community etc, both experiences are given to draw us deeper into the continuous journey of discovering the great value of the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth.
Finally, and in the third of today’s three parables, the Kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet. Does this remind you of any image that I may have used in the past? Yes, the Kingdom of Heaven is also like a funnel; taking a large catchment of people (faithful, life-long Mass-goers, those celebrating Sacraments of initiation, people who come to us for funerals, weddings, and even those who might not consider themselves to be worshiping Catholics), and you and I accompanying them into the bottom of the funnel, which is a personal relationship with Jesus our Lord which leads to worship! While Jesus used images and examples that were both relevant and aimed at his contemporary listeners, there are many every-day images in our lives that help us to describe and understand what a lived relationship with Jesus can be like in 2023. May God bless you with understanding and true knowledge of a relationship with Jesus.