Sunday, November 18, 2012

25th Sunday after Pentecost (resumed 6th Sunday after Epiphany)

1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 / Matthew 13:31-35

Jesus, the evangelist Matthew tells us, spoke in parables in fulfillment of the words spoken by the Prophet: I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world. On the face of it, this seems an odd pair of claims. After all, what distinguishes parables is, among other things, that they do not tell what they want to tell directly. By their nature, they are an oblique sort of discourse, speaking about one thing by telling a story seemingly about another. So, while Jesus' parables may utter things hidden from the foundation of the world, it would seem as though, in uttering them, they remain just as hidden as before.

Yet, this puzzle does not seem uniquely linked to the issue of Jesus' parabolic speech. After all, while Jesus does, on occasion, teach things directly and openly, for the most part we learn what the Incarnate Word of God has to say in episodic ways, through the narratives of his life, works, and sayings recorded by the evangelists and as expounded by the apostles in their letters. Jesus did not bequeath his Church as theological treatise, organized and categorized as we might hope. It is not that Jesus is never clear and direct. Rather, the fulness of the Gospel only comes to us precisely in the same oblique and slant way as the parables he tells in response to his questioners.

Of course, in our puzzlement, we presume, and presume without justification, that we are ready and able to receive the full truth of God directly. What if it were the case, rather, that our eyes, so long accustomed to the dim and the dark, would be dazzled by the clear light of God's teaching? Suppose that, even as God has decreed the sun to rise gradually upon the earth, and so allow his creatures to adjust their eyes to the dawning of the day, so also God has decreed that, from the darkness of our errors, and even from the dim light of our natural reason, the light of full truth has come to us slowly, that our eyes might adjust. It is the same sunlight that makes the rosy dawn as much as the bright sky at noon, and so likewise it is not as though we await a new and fuller revelation to supplant the coming of the Word of God in flesh. Rather, he came to us, and comes to us, so that we might learn to see and hear him, so that our eyes will one day be made ready to behold him, face to face.

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