July 30, 2020, Thursday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time
Scripture: Matthew 13:47-53
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’ When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
“Have you understood all this?”
In this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus explains the kingdom of heaven. He has taken the Twelve aside to offer a more intense explanation, first of the weeds and wheat, then of the mustard seed, the buried treasure, and the fine pearls. Now he speaks to them of the wide net thrown out by the fishermen. The Twelve are to be fishers of men — in fact, most of them are fishermen by profession —- and they will have to use a large net, throw it over the waters and haul in as many fish as possible. When they proclaim the kingdom they will have to reach out to as many people as can hear. An attempt will be made to include everyone in the kingdom, but not all will be chosen. As with the fish, a division is made: they “put the good into baskets,” but the bad is “thrown out.”
Jesus is painting a vivid picture for the disciples of the urgency of their mission. They must bring his message to everyone — preach it as far and wide as possible so that many people (ourselves included) will accept the Good News and be ready for God’s judgment. What is being judged? Are the good that are put into baskets “good” on their merits? Are the bad, the ones thrown out, “bad” on their merits? The Gospel of grace would have me believe not. It would have me believe that there is good and bad in each of us, and that these aspects of good and bad are to be sorted out and separated. Yes, there will be fire, a fire of purging, and it will not pleasant; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. That is true of our experience. When we are brought face to face with our failings, we weep inwardly, we gnash our teeth. But God never gives up on us. Indeed, God uses our failings, our “badness,” to bring us through fire — through the furnace of his love. In the end it is not punishment, it is love. God’s love wins, is victorious in the end over all things, over the “cruddy” stuff in our lives (the bad) that we are ashamed of, and also over the “good” stuff in our lives that can make us prideful, which is then “bad” and to be thrown away, burned away.
Jesus asked the disciples, “Have you understood all this?” Yes, they say. Then, he says, you must be “like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old..” That is what I am endeavoring to do here: to speak out of the wisdom of the Christian perennial tradition and the Spirit of the Good News.
God of the Ages, thank you for providing fishermen (and fisherwomen) down through the generations who pursued the calling to be fishers of people. And may we, inspired by the head of the household in Christ’s parable, embrace what is new, and treasure what is old in our tradition. Enrich us. Mind and heart, so we, too, will become fishers of the men and women around us.
My mind and heart await your word.