17th Sunday Year A
Sunday 30th July 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Jesus said: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a paddock. A worker finds it and hides it again. His joy at such a great find leads him to go and sell everything he owns in order to buy that paddock.
‘Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for the best pearls. When she sees a magnificent pearl, she goes and sells all her other pearls and jewels in order to have that special one.
‘Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a huge net cast out across the sea between two boats. It picks up everything in its way. When it is full, it is dragged ashore and the fishermen go through the catch, saving all the good fish and throwing out the bad. That is what will happen at the end of the world. The angels will come and sift, from the midst of the just, the wicked, throwing them into the burning furnace where they will wail in agony.’
Jesus then asked them: ‘Do you understand all this?’
And they replied: ‘Yes, Master, we do.’
So, he said to them; ‘A person who knows the Jewish Law and becomes my disciple is like a householder who is able to bring old and new things out of the storeroom.’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 118: 57, 72, 127-130
The meaning of my life, O God
is to live by your words.
Your teaching is, for me,
more precious than the greatest wealth.
Please, let your kindness be my comfort
as you promised me, your servant.
Let your compassion come upon me
and I will delight in your law.
Because of this I love your teaching
more than the greatest wealth.
I cherish your teaching
and abhor lies and deception.
Your words are wonderful,
so I ponder on them constantly.
They dawn like light in my life
and give understanding to the simple.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, you have given us a glimpse of your Kingdom. Send us your Spirit that hearts may be filled with its joy and hope. Living by the teachings of Jesus may our lives witness to that Kingdom, even now in our broken and glorious world. We ask this in his name confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
This Sunday we conclude the third teaching section of the Gospel of Matthew with the three last parables on what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.
The first two very short parables stress the absolute transformation of a person’s life that comes from a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. The man who finds the treasure in a field was probably understood by Jesus’ hearers to be a poor paid labourer. The merchant would have been understood as belonging to the wealthy class. Each of them had glimpsed something that transformed their lives. The difficulties and self-denials that they would have encountered in achieving their goal are made light of because of the all consuming desire of their hearts.
In the third parable, Jesus returns to a theme that he explored before in the Parable of the Weeds: why hasn’t the world been transformed by the preaching of the Gospel. Here Jesus likens the kingdom to a dragnet. This is a huge net, often dragged between boats that captured all in its path. Only when taken onto shore or into the boat can its contents be sorted. This present age is like the time when the net is being dragged – all sorts of things are caught. If we are scandalised or shocked by some of the things we see going on around us and wonder why God does not intervene, we are not to worry. Judgement will come, it will be sure and it is not for us to determine when and how it will happen.
The finale of this section of Matthew is the challenge to all of us to be disciple-scribes who know how to study the past tradition, especially of the Jewish Testament, and integrate it with the new teaching of Jesus.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
The conclusion of Jesus’ teaching on the parables ends with a homely and endearing image of the Christian. Throughout this sermon in parables, a distinction was made between those who understood what Jesus was talking about and those who did not. Finally, Jesus asks the disciples if they understood all this. When they say, ‘Yes,’ he calls on them to be scribe-disciples acting like householders who know when to bring old and new from the storeroom.
The main source of resistance to Jesus’ message came from the religious authorities who set great store on tradition. To protect the tradition, they multiplied the laws till the primary purpose of the tradition, worship of God and care for one’s neighbour, was lost. When ‘tradition’ itself became the focus of religion, it became an obstacle to faith. The Gospel of Matthew constantly stresses how Jesus was the fulfilment of all that has gone before and how much he revered religious tradition. But it also shows him developing and adapting that tradition to the people of his time.
The practice of faith involves using both what we have received from the past and what we are learning in the present. It is too easy to place past and present in opposition to each other and prefer one over the other. To do that is to fail in being faithful to the teaching of Jesus. No, we have to have interplay between the two so that there is creativity, life and depth in our faith. To be able to respect the best the past has to offer and weave it into the best of the present is the sign of the truly wise person. And the truly wise know that this is a gift of the Spirit for which they ardently pray.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
One of my sisters tells a story from her time working in the Kimberley. In a lively discussion on religion at the pub one night, her interlocutor cut in: ‘Look, I think religion is important. You just shouldn’t let it dominate your life!’ Ah, but my sister’s point, and the point of this Sunday’s Gospel, was that it should dominate your life.’ The question is how should it dominate.
The presumption the guy in the pub made was that religion was one of the many practices in life that we could do and which might make life a bit better – like eating well, doing yoga or getting plenty of exercise. For him, religion could be a drag on enjoying yourself if you let it get out of hand.
The Gospel uses the imagery of a farmer and a merchant allowing the pursuit of their goal to dominate their lives and fill them with joy. That joy is important. It is the sign that we are living our faith in the right way. Even in times of sorrow, grief and pain, we can have a form of faith-filled joy because we know that this life is moving towards something greater. The Kingdom of God’s love has already broken into our lives and is making sense of all the different situations in which we find ourselves. Here, religion is not an added ingredient to be fitted into life, but a transformation on how we live.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
What a wealth of images on this Sunday’s Gospel!
– James Tissot’s painting The Hidden Treasure well shows the life of hard labour this worker would have had.
– In Domenico Feti’s painting Pearl of Great Price we see the merchant in the busy market place.
– Daniel Bonnell’s painting of the Treasure is very rich. Below are his comments on this painting.
“Have you and I discovered the kingdom of heaven? Would you sell all that you own to obtain it? Do you know it that well to sell out to it? We get a clue of how to obtain the keys to the kingdom of heaven in Luke 6:20 where Jesus tells us, “Blessed (happy) are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Christ is speaking of being poor in spirit, taking on a brokenness that can only be known by coming to terms with the cross and our sin. The cross is the doorway to the kingdom of heaven. We are to take up our cross and follow him to walk with him, to truly know this truer dimension of life. In the painting Discovering the Pearl of Great Price all of nature (the sun) bends toward the pilgrim as if all of creation and the creator finally make sense in this life. It is a moment of spiritual awakening that is found when we finally connect with our true Father, not our earthly Father but our Heavenly Father. The Merchant holds the pearl to his breast in gratitude, worship and joy. The key to his discovery lies in the shadow of the shovel.” Daniel Bonnell
– This vessel by Udo Mathee, Sinnvoll illustrates the treasure hidden within. The accompanying reflection had appeared in English some years ago. Unfortunately it is now only in German.
– Finally these stained glass windows in Scots Church, Melbourne, show both the parable of the Pearl and the Treasure.
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
The labourer and the worker had their lives transformed by a goal. The hope of this goal gave them joy even when the path to its fulfilment entailed difficulty and loss.
Over the coming week, mull over what a difference your faith makes to your life.
– What sense of hope do you have in the difficult or even boring times in your life?
– How does the idea of the Kingdom of Heaven enter into your daily life? Are you able to ponder on it in the spare moments of your day?
– Can you allow that hope to give you joy?
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Jesus offered his disciples the image of a wise scribe who was able to draw on old and new things while growing in the life of faith. In this week’s Mirror Meditation we look ponder on how we look to the past and the present in our life situations.
Rest in the love of your God.
Consider how your faith is a work in process by your God. Like children, travelling in a car, we get impatient but we need to remember we are ‘not there yet’.
Try to recall some of the important turning points in your life. How did you embrace the change? Did you want to just stay the same or were you excited by the new? Were you able to respond to the situation by drawing on the past while accepting that the new situation was different?
Do you have a challenging situation at present – in rearing your children, in your workplace, in caring for family or friends? What does past wisdom teach you? Listen to both your own wisdom and that of people who advise you? What is new in this situation? What can you learn from contemporary knowledge?
Resting in the love of God, ask the Spirit to guide your imagination as you think of new wise responses to that situation.
Rest in the love of your God.