First reading and psalm: Gen. 29:15-28 • Ps. 105:1-11, 45b or Ps. 128
Alternate: 1 Kings 3:5-12 • Ps. 119:129-136 • Rom. 8:26-39 • Matt. 13:31-33, 44-52
The series of mini-parables cobbled together from Matthew may seem to be a grab bag of images about the kingdom of Heaven. But each image contrasts a temporal perspective with the eternal, though the element of time is sometimes implicit in the imagery.
The parable of the mustard seed, for example, depends upon time. What seems small and, because of its smallness, devoid of value, becomes in time the greatest of all bushes, such that it transcends the category of bush and becomes a tree. God’s kingdom is dynamic in time. In God’s world, things grow and change. It is a kingdom of becoming. Even Christ, through his Incarnation, took on this nature, for he is the one who was, who is, and who is coming.
The parable of the tiny amount of yeast that leavens a large lump of dough also contains an implicit dependence upon time. When I was a child, I loved seeing my mother make bread, but I simply could not fathom why it needed to sit so long in one place and do nothing. Why could it not be baked immediately? But time is an essential ingredient in leavened bread, and that teaches us patience with God’s Church: gospel seed scattered on the hillside, seed that grows and produces the fruit of holiness, grain gathered and crushed and made one loaf — and then allowed time to rise and develop itself into that which the Maker intends.
The parables of the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price are similar: the seeker experiences a lapse in time between finding and receiving a great treasure. What degree of urgency do we place on obtaining the kingdom of heaven? To what degree do we long and work for that temporal gap to be closed? Are we properly impatient for the kingdom, as a lover is impatient in separation from the beloved?
Portraying the kingdom as a net containing all manner of fish, Jesus makes explicit that the time for discerning the good from the bad comes only when the net is full. For the Christian, judgment of persons must be left for the end of time, when there will be no more good becoming bad or bad becoming good. Until then, redemption and apostasy are real possibilities.
Jesus compares the understanding disciple to a scribe who values both the old and new. For the kingdom of God, value is not limited to one space in history. Both old and new have their place in eternity.
The same perspective on time informs the reading from Romans. God’s promises that “all things work together for good” and that we are “more than conquerors” must be taken in time. Though all things may not seem to be working for good now, in the end it will be so. God lives in the eternal now: we are no one before him except who we are now. The disposition of our soul toward him in each and every moment has eternal significance. Yet our lives are also set within the vast sweep of eternity and human history; and within the scope of even our own lifespan, time is both more and less important than we think.
Look It Up
If God lives in an eternal now, what meaning is there in the concept of promise?
Think About It
Clement of Alexandria writes that eternity “presents in an instant the future, the present, and also the past of time” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. ii, p. 313).