Saint Vincent Archabbey
17 Ordinary Time
17th Sunday of the Year, Modern
Lectionary 109 Gospel: Matthew 13: 44-52
Listening is a skill often unpracticed today; we only need to note current political discourse, TV commentators on current events, and even observe carefully our own family communications to realize that we tend to talk a lot and listen relatively little.
In the midst of a world where there is so much chatter and so little respectful attention we hear Solomon asking God in today's first reading for the gift of "a listening heart", preferring this disposition of openness to others more than power or wealth. For his part the Psalmist extolls the virtue of listening, the wisdom books of the Old Testament insist upon it ceaselessly, and our Lord himself often begins his teaching by urging his disciples to "hear a parable…" as we heard at mass two weeks ago.
In that same passage Jesus explained why active, conscious listening was critical for those to whom he preached, and remains so for us; he says that if we do not make this effort: "they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand… they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them" (Matt 13:13, 15).
St. Benedict too, not surprisingly, gets in on the act, beginning his monastic Rule with the words: "Listen carefully with the ear of the heart…", and urging his monks to have a great esteem for silence and attentiveness. The wisdom that arises from careful listening enables us to discern what is truly important in life and in our faith; this is what Jesus was trying to explain in the parable of the buried treasure and that of the pearl of great price. We do not sell everything we have and use the proceeds to buy an object if that object is not of truly compelling worth.
Circling back to the first reading for today we behold the great Solomon, faced with a momentous choice: God has offered to give him anything he asks for, even immense wealth, victory over his enemies, prestige—anything. The way Solomon responds is instructive: "I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong" (1 Kings 3:8-9).
What is rendered in the lectionary as an "understanding" heart actually means a "listening" heart in Hebrew. Perhaps the translators sought to explain what the metaphor of a listening heart is getting at, but I believe it requires no explanation. We all know how powerful language can be even when it is figurative: when we say or hear "my heart is broken", or "I jumped out of my skin". These are ways of capturing in limited human words the visceral reality of sadness or fear…or careful attentiveness.
In any case Solomon recognized what was of real value in living his vocation as a follower of the Lord and as the King of Israel: the wisdom that only comes with "a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5). In turn this wisdom only comes to those who are humble enough to listen to it quietly and peaceably. May we attune our hearts to be listening and understanding so that the Lord's precious gifts might not be lost on us, and so we may share them generously, "like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old" (Matt 13:52).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time,
Matthew 13: 44-52
This Sunday's passage contains the last three of the set of seven parables that Matthew placed in the center of his gospel. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field or a pearl of great price. When its great value is recognized, one gladly does all that is necessary to obtain it. The kingdom of heaven is also like a net that collects all sorts of fish.
Just as the useless fish are eventually thrown away, at the end of the age the wicked will be rejected. The last parable is a sober reminder that even though Jesus is the presence of divine wisdom, many take offense at him, and because of their lack of faith are lost.
Jesus then expresses concern that the disciples understand the parables because they like Jesus must instruct others in the mystery of the kingdom.
Three aspects of God's kingdom are highlighted in these parables: the necessity of recognizing its ultimate value, the necessity of responding with total commitment upon recognition of its presence, and the possibility of rejecting the gift of eternal life that it brings.
Matthew in narrating events of Jesus' life provides good life-illustrations of today's parables that may help us hear them in a personal way.
A rich young man approached Jesus and asked what he must do to gain eternal life.
Jesus sensed the possibility that this young man may have been keeping all the commandments except the first, the source of all the others: "… you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with you're your whole being, and with your whole strength” (Dt 6:5). He replied: " . . . go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor . . . Then come, follow me. When the young man heard this statement he went away sad, for he had many possessions” (Mt 19:16-22).
In contrast, Matthew also tells us of two blind men who recognized Jesus as the "pearl of great price” they were seeking. They cried out to him in their poverty. Moved with pity, Jesus gave them sight, and they followed him (Mt 20:29-34). In Mk 10:46-52 the contrast with the sighted-yet-blind rich man is even more dramatically drawn.
The good news for us is that the Risen Lord is present in our celebration of the Eucharist not only to instruct us about the kingdom of heaven, but also to give us his Spirit. In the Spirit, through faith, we receive sight to recognize the presence of the kingdom in our world, and we receive courage to commit ourselves totally to God's reign with single-minded desire.
In his Rule, Saint Benedict (one of those scribes who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven) gives us two sayings to help us keep alive in our hearts the meaning of this Sunday's liturgy. From the Prologue: "Oh, that today you would hear his voice: Do not harden your hearts” (Ps 95:7-8), and adapted from chapter 72: "Prefer nothing whatever to Christ.”
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.