Seventeenth Sunday of the Year
Christianity is a religion of attention. Whom do we notice? What do we notice? Is it a person on the street or a person with a lot of social status? This relates to the image, a few weeks ago, where Jesus self-described as meek and how that may be reflected in our worship spaces might; what appears in parish bulletins; books we read; the training we offer for youth and religious leaders; how ‘little ones’ are listened to as privileged interpreters of God’s message. What verses and scenes do we hold in our hearts? What images direct our attention to the God of love? The parables suggest that God’s Reign is not only found in places such as monasteries or in the demands and rewards of human religion but in the ordinary, daily, in your face, reality.
Again, Jesus uses various images to describe God’s reign which is not about places but relationships. It is seen in the lives of people, such as Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and Oscar Romero and many unknown, who via many detours, obstacles, and failures saw and revealed God’s gracious design and presence. They pointed to what is of value in God’s Reign – the value of each person and God’s creation despite immense suffering through violence, racism, dispossession, hunger, and degradation. The parables tell us that different priorities exist in God’s reign where Christian communities must be replicated in compassion, respect for difference, love for the sinner, forgiveness, and passion for justice and peace. Though not easy, we can still find gems of humanity and the surprising ways God's presence is revealed every day. As we enter this world, we realise we too are caught in that ‘dragnet’ and find ‘a treasure’.
Anne Hanson (Catholic Women Preach) points to aspects of God’s Reign. It is like a family gathered celebrating, eating, laughing; the rehabilitation programmes created for gang members by Fr. Greg Boyle that give them second, third, fourth, and fifth chances because that is what God does; people who risk arrest for joining strikers for fair wages and better working conditions on the picket lines; where ‘there is neither Jew or Gentile, slave nor free, male or female because we will all be one in Jesus Christ;’ where people of colour and LGBTIQA+ people are more and more part feel at home wherever they are. Finally, it is a gathering of all around a table that is continually extended. There is nothing passive about God’s reign.
Jesus’ parables serve to disrupt the way the world is and could be. Whenever we think we understand what Jesus is saying, another parable comes to scramble our understanding. God’s Reign is subversive, unstoppable, invasive, a nuisance, urgent, shocking, abundant. It inspires extreme behavior requiring action and commitment to where we stand, who we stand with, and ultimately sit with, in the world. Jesus noticed injustice, oppression, and marginalisation, and spoke out against them. He also found gems of humanity in unexpected people and places. Matthew makes the point that God’s reign is neither an instant happening nor a static event, but a dynamic movement toward completion and fulfillment which Jesus set into motion. The parable of the dragnet calls us to embrace the vision of God that seeks out the good and nurturing, the right and just in all things amid the ‘junk’ of life. It reminds us that God’s embrace is wide enough and durable enough to draw all people in without allowing anyone to fall through the net and be lost. The call is to live with mess, and trust in God’s loving kindness rather than be judgmental. We are to continue to work and serve others without judging their worthiness. No one is drowned or to be lost in the crowd. No person, no touch, no gesture is anonymous or impersonal. There are no losers or anonymous people in God’s Reign.
Look for hints of God’s Reign breaking into our lives: forgiveness offered, peacemaking attempted, listening or self-giving in service. We see it when we shape our responses to reality based on God’s gratuitousness. God’s Reign is not beyond our world despite what politicians and church leaders would have us believe when they try to silence religious dissenters, justice and peace advocates. Where the early church was more connected to poverty, imprisonment and persecution, today, in many places we see where its treasures are being more married to prosperity, personality and popularity causing it to be silent before injustice, e.g., when people claim to be Christians (incl. bishops) support billionaire politicians and tycoons at the expense of health care and social welfare for the poor yet support tax breaks for the rich and cut funding for environmental protection and Indigenous health. We pull Jesus apart when we work at cross-purposes, when we are silent before racism, neglect and other forms of injustice.
As we enter this world, we realise we are caught in that ‘dragnet’ and we find ‘a treasure’. The God of surprises opens our eyes to discover that what has been dragged in by the net is not rubbish but really a treasure. Where some go for a witch hunt, we are called to go for a treasure hunt. How often we have discovered that when we have looked in the eyes of another, we see something precious, beautiful? We have often discovered this where we took the trouble to connect with people who were different to us or people we were not attracted to? Those who were feared, disliked, or not trusted were seen as a treasure!! That treasure is God’s Reign. It is not only to be found but also embodied because it is not an abstraction. God is truly the God of surprises who opens our eyes to the discovery that what has been dragged in by the net is really a treasure and not rubbish. Where some go for a witch hunt, we are called to a treasure hunt.