Weekday Gospel Reflection

Monday in the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 13:31-35 - World English Bible

31 Jesus set another parable before them, saying, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; 32 which indeed is smaller than all seeds. But when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches."

33 He spoke another parable to them. "The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, until it was all leavened."

34 Jesus spoke all these things in parables to the multitudes; and without a parable, he didn't speak to them, 35 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying,

"I will open my mouth in parables;
I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world."

After the parable of the Wheat and the Tares (darnel weeds), Jesus used two other similes for the Kingdom of heaven, the parables of the Mustard Seed and the Rising Bread. Instead of addressing the end times, these comparisons spoke to the growing nature of God's reign. The Kingdom would not start with the explosion of a great military victory or the impending doom of a cosmic catastrophe, but would commence almost unnoticed, like a small mustard seed or bit of yeast in dough, and grow slowly, within social and political structures, to the point those structures would be changed. Notice the Lord emphasized change from within, not from without. This dovetailed nicely with the later theological notion that "grace builds upon nature." God invited change; he did not impose change.

Matthew again emphasized the point that Jesus spoke in parables to fulfill Scripture, this time Psalm 78:2. He revealed God's message, but in a way that engaged people's imaginations. The truth was before them, but they needed to take responsibility to explore it, accept it and employ it in their lives.

How is grace growing slowly in your life this week?

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Tuesday in the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 13:36-43 - World English Bible

36 Then Jesus sent the multitudes away, and went into the house. His disciples came to him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the darnel weeds of the field."

37 He answered them, "He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the children of the Kingdom; and the darnel weeds are the children of the evil one. 39 The enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 As therefore the darnel weeds are gathered up and burned with fire; so will it be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather out of his Kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and those who do iniquity, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be weeping and the gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Like his explanation for the parable of the Sower and the Seed (13:28-23), Jesus interpreted the parable of the Wheat and the Tares as an aside to his disciples. He separated the parable of the Sower and the Seed from its explanation with the reason he taught in the genre, backed up with a quote from Isaiah. He placed distance between the parable of the Wheat and the Tares and its interpretation with two short similes about the Kingdom, backed up with a quote from Psalm 78. Matthew wrote his gospels in groups of two (called "doublets"), in this case, a parallel construction.

Jesus interpreted the parable of the Wheat and the Tares (darnel weeds) in a personal way. He, the Son of Man, sowed the seed, the children of the Kingdom, while the Evil One sows children of his own. Notice the cosmic dimension of the parable, the struggle between good and evil, heaven and hell. The harvest was the end time when the Son of Man will send out his angels (in Greek "messengers") that could be interpreted as missionaries (his "seeds?") instead of spiritual beings. The Word they proclaimed would save people from "things that cause stumbling." Rejection of that Word would condemn those who committed iniquity. In the end, the righteous would "shine like the sun," reminiscent of the visual glory Jesus had at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9). The admonition of 13:43b about hearing his words was directed at disciples; he gave them the task to spread the Good News.

How have you heard the words of Jesus this week?

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Wednesday in the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 13:44-46 - World English Bible

Jesus told his disciples:

44 "Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found, and hid. In his joy, he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.

45 "Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who is a merchant seeking fine pearls, 46 who having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it."

Up to this point in Matthew 13, Jesus told two agricultural parables (the Sower and the Seed addressed evangelization, the Wheat and the Tares addressed the coming end times) and two short similes (the Mustard Seed and Yeast, both addressed the growth of the Kingdom). Now he gave two short sayings about the value of faith; it was immeasurable. Notice that, in the pursuit of faith, the seeker bankrupted himself. A relationship with God was worth more than all one's possessions, ambitions, even self.

What are you willing to give up for your faith? How is your relationship with God your greatest treasure?

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Thursday in the Seventeenth of Ordinary Time

Matthew 13:47-53 - World English Bible

Jesus said to his disciples:

47 "Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet, that was cast into the sea, and gathered some fish of every kind, 48 which, when it was filled, they drew up on the beach. They sat down, and gathered the good into containers, but the bad they threw away. 49 So will it be in the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked from among the righteous, 50 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth." 51 Jesus said to them, "Have you understood all these things?"

They answered him, "Yes, Lord."

52 He said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been made a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who is a householder, who brings out of his treasure new and old things."

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he departed from there.

In this final parable found in Matthew 13, Jesus returned to the theme of the end times. Like the harvest story in 13:24-29, this narrative focused upon separating the good from the bad. Notice, however, before the act of dividing, the fisher-missionaries had to discern the saved from the damned. Prospective converts would make that decision for themselves through their actions, but the leaders faced that problem in the admission of neophytes into the community of the Kingdom. What's the old saying, "a bad apple can spoil the whole barrel"? So, Jesus implied the decision who (and who not) to baptize played a part in the end time scenario.

Jesus finished with a brief simile about a patriarch who displayed his treasure to impress his visitors. Yes, he bragged, but what to show and when to show it took thought. For the missionary, the question of reference and timing took wisdom. When did he use a reference from the Hebrew Scriptures to bolster his argument? When did he proclaim the Good News? These questions required prudence and intelligence, for both were critical in the efforts of evangelization.

How have you been faithful to your baptismal vows? How are you ready for the Kingdom? Have you prayed for wisdom before you speak to friends about Christ?

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Friday in the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 13:54-58 - World English Bible

54 Coming into his own country, Jesus taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom, and these mighty works? 55 Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother called Mary, and his brothers, James, Joses, Simon, and Judas?� 56 Aren't all of his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all of these things?" 57 They were offended by him.

But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and in his own house." 58 He didn't do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

I grew up in a large family (five sisters and two brothers) as a middle child, in the midst of a pecking order with unspoken expectations. I knew my siblings' "hot buttons" and they knew mine. I had my place in just another middle class family with "issues." Of course, adult life, professionally and personally, raised me beyond that environment.

Jesus faced the same problems. Unlike modern America with its upward mobility, he lived in a static culture where place in the clan defined the person's identity. He grew up in a carpenter's family, so people expected him to live out his existence as a carpenter, get married, raise a family...

Jesus went down a different path. He created a mobile ministry. He traveled, taught in synagogues throughout the region and gained a reputation as a healer. His adult life "cut against the grain" of expectations. People he knew didn't know what to do with him, where to place in their lives, how to relate to him. So, they were scandalized, simply because they judged him.

They could not become disciples because they asked the wrong question. Instead of "Why did you change, Jesus?" it should have been, "How can you change us, Lord?"

Have you asked Jesus to change you this week?

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Saturday in the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 14:1-12 - World English Bible

1 At that time, Herod the tetrarch heard the report concerning Jesus, 2 and said to his servants, "This is John the Baptizer. He is risen from the dead. That is why these powers work in him." 3 For Herod had laid hold of John, and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. 4 For John said to him, "It is not lawful for you to have her." 5 When he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. 6 But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced among them and pleased Herod. 7 Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatever she should ask. 8 She, being prompted by her mother, said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptizer."

9 The king was grieved, but for the sake of his oaths, and of those who sat at the table with him, he commanded it to be given, 10 and he sent and beheaded John in the prison. 11 His head was brought on a platter, and given to the young lady: and she brought it to her mother. 12 His disciples came, and took the body, and buried it; and they went and told Jesus.

Matthew's gospel told the shameful tale of Herod Antipas, his wife Herodias and her daughter Salome in the execution of John the Baptist. Please note Herodias drove the plot against the Baptist; she was what modern people would call a "social climber." According to Josephus, she bore Hasmonean bloodlines through her father and Idumean heritage through her mother. In other words, she was a product of the royal inbreeding of the various Semitic leading families that surrounded Herod the Great (37-4 BC). While she lived in a male-dominated, gender segregated society, her wealth and status under Roman law gave her advantages not available to other women at her time. She divorced her first husband, Herod II (27 BC to 33 AD) to marry his brother Herod Antipas (who had divorced his first wife in favor of Herodias). The Baptist opposed the remarriage based upon Jewish sensibilities, seeing the bond as incestuous. According to gospel tradition, she urged her daughter to entice her stepfather's lust by dancing before him and his guests at a royal banquet held for his birthday. He gave into his desire by offering Salome anything she wanted, thus debasing himself before the court. The girl asked for the head of the Baptist, which he ordered so he would not violate his shameful oaths. Notice the scene Matthew painted was so craven, it even now violates modern sensibilities. As one modern scholar stated, "If a stepmother encouraged her daughter to dance lewdly at a party with the intent of seducing her husband and he gave into his lust, everyone there would be facing some serious jail time."

The story of John's death in Matthew and Luke contrasted the honor of the Baptist to the shame of his executioners. This story foreshadowed the honor of Jesus' death compared to the shame of his opponents in the Passion.

Take a moment to pray for the intercession of the Baptist. Pray to emulate his courage in the face of utter shame.

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