When singer Bruce Springsteen was honored at the Kennedy Center a few years ago, the former Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, paid him tribute. He said,
On Facebook recently, a graphic was shared featuring a young man’s encounter with Jesus. The image shows the young man and Jesus both sitting on a park bench, facing each other. The backdrop is a serene view of green grass and leafy trees whose color becomes muted in the brightness surrounding Jesus. Then, in stark white speech bubbles and bold, black print, the graphic reads as follows:
“His throne was flames of fire, with wheels of burning fire. A surging stream of fire flowed out from where he sat.”
There's a lot of fire in the first reading today. An Ancient One sits on a throne of fire, with wheels of fire, streaming a surge of fire. Someone like a human being approaches on a cloud and is given power over everyone and everything. Later, in the second reading the disciples claim that they’re not following cleverly designed myths, yet the fiery language of this passage from Daniel certainly sounds mythic.
In today's Gospel, we have three familiar images told in parable form. The first is a treasure hidden in a field, the second a pearl of great wealth, and finally a fisherman’s net loaded with various types of fish. In the first instance—the treasure buried in a field—the finder wasn’t entitled to the treasure but rather the owner of the field. Because he could gain great wealth, the finder worked hard to get the prize by purchasing the field from the owner.
Last summer, in the run-up to the presidential election, I made a conscious decision to back out of Facebook. I wasn’t closing my account, and I wasn’t un-friending everyone. But I was unplugging from the platform as a mode of interaction with friends and family. My feed had become a torrent of vitriol mostly from people with a worldview similar to my own and usually in the form of a re-post from a news source or popular television show. Not much of it was written by the people I knew.
Today's Gospel is a long reading in comparison to most Gospels throughout the year. The length can make it difficult to grasp the message simply because our attention span may not last long enough to thoroughly hear it. I find this interesting considering that today’s Gospel teaches us to be receptive listeners. The very beginning of this reading makes it easy to lose interest. Jesus begins with the familiar parable of the sower: some seed was eaten by birds, some seed fell on rocky ground, some seed fell among thorns, and some seed fell on rich soil producing much fruit.
It was a day in May the first time I pulled out today’s readings in anticipation of writing this reflection. I was frantically trying to get ahead and cross some things off my “to-do” list before June hit and my kids were out of school for summer break. “Frantically” should have been my first clue that I was not doing something right. I was letting my schedule run the show and not God. I did not pull the scriptures back out again until late June when summer break was in full swing. The first thing that struck me was a line from today’s Gospel.
Have you ever started a TV series midway through a season—and have no idea what’s going on? It’s not a great experience! Today’s Gospel reading—kind of feels like that. Let’s take a look at some “previous episodes” to get a sense of what’s going on in this chapter of Matthew!
Wearing of the green (vestments)! This Sunday, ordinary time appears visible in green. The weekly scripture passages originate from the Cycle A Readings: St. Matthew’s Gospel and for a few weeks, St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Each week a unique first reading from the Old Testament connects to the Gospel passage and the Responsorial Psalm provides a response to the first reading; the structured integrity of the Liturgy of the Word focuses listener and preacher alike to “hear” the Gospel.
The readings this weekend are incredibly rich. They draw our attention to the goodness of God, today and throughout history, but also speak to the heart of the Eucharist—the Body and Blood of Christ.