Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Comprehending the Incomprehensible

Lectionary Readings: (Taken from the biblical meditations of Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP)

  • Isaiah 55:10-11. God’s word comes mysteriously and gently from above, yet powerfully achieves its effect with us.
  • Romans 8: 18-23. The earth groans in travail, awaiting the revelation of the Son of God, the glory hidden within it, which the Spirit brings to fruition.
  • Matthew 13:1-23. The parable of the sower and several explanations.

Thoughts for your Consideration, By John Gonzalez

Socrates is known to have said a phrase “I know that I know nothing.” The idea behind this statement and the Socratic Method is that true knowledge comes from our ability to be open to the hidden wisdom of possibilities when we question certain certitudes. If we investigate our assumptions it may unnerve us to find out that our dogmatic beliefs may not be so obvious and clear but if we stay on track what we will discover is the universal truth that our dogmatic statements attempt to convey imperfectly. In the letters of St. Paul he refers to this when he makes his distinction between living under the law versus living in the Spirit. The mystical truths are in some ways beyond human comprehension. But nevertheless it is God’s desire that we share in His eternal word and wisdom and the readings for this week instruct us on how we are to receive his divine word. The caution of course is to not be fooled into thinking that we actually fully understand this divine wisdom by ardently and unreflectively defending some dogmatic statements or beliefs. This will only result in a false sense of knowledge and a limited appreciation of that which is mystical.

The readings for this weekend follow from last week’s lesson about the wisdom of God being accessible to the ignorant while being hidden from those who are socially considered wise or clever. This week the three writers describe the mystical access and effect of God’s divine word. Jesus’ famous parable of the sower seems to borrow directly from the first reading where Isaiah describes God’s great wisdom within the metaphor of a gentle precipitation which saturates the ground and is expected to produce a good harvest. In the second reading Paul offers us an image of the effect of God’s word as it rains down upon all creation. Not only humanity but indeed all creation will be glorified as it is reborn with the Spirit of God’s message. In the gospel passage Jesus offers and then explains the parable of the sower. He lets his disciples know that God’s wisdom is self evident for all to see and hear but social conditions will compromise the access to this wisdom for many.

The human condition is one that desires to pursue the truth. God does not wish to keep His great truth from us. Through the elements of revelation and reason we have had access to the self-evident truths that are revealed to us by the Spirit. We must consider two things as we contemplate this divine wisdom and the meaning that these truths have in our own lives. The first limitation that we must accept is our own subjectivity. While we may yearn for the truth at times we may find ourselves redefining the truth so that it does not challenge our social reality. Many of Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence and uncompromising charity are very much socially disturbing and we continue to have theological debates regarding how we can incorporate this wisdom within the social context. The ideas of the “common good” or the “preferential option for the poor” continue to produce massive theological discussions. We can observe, for example, how these gospel principles are accepted in the underdeveloped context of Latin America is very different from the way they are perceived in the North American context. As we listen to the challenging word of God we ought to be aware of our own subjective approach to this message and recognize the cultural and social bias that we bring to our own interpretation.

The second limitation comes from our imperfect humanity which can comprehend universal truths from narrow perception of our human experience. The reason that Jesus uses parables is because the only way we can comprehend the ineffable is through the use of metaphoric images that are based on our natural reality. To say that God’s house in a mansion with many rooms does not mean that I must literally accept that God has a large and expensive domicile and that one of those rooms has my name on the door. Instead it gives us a symbolic image that conveys the fact that there is another existence after this one and that we (in some way) are expected to partake in this existence. Our knowledge of the mystery of creation is ever evolving and as a result our knowledge of God’s creative mystery (as revealed through creation) is also evolving. In the second reading Paul asserts that creation is not a stable unit that is passively waiting for God to transform it. Instead creation is depicted as a living and active organism that is at this moment undergoing a process of transformation.

God’s word has been given to us to aid us as co-workers that are commissioned to help bring about this transformation. Let us treat this divine word gently and habitually so that each and every aspect of the divine message will grow within each and every one of us.

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About jdgonzo73

I am a Catholic lay minister in the field of Christian ethics, Latino theology and Paulacrucian spirituality. I am currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Fordham, an ad-junct professor at Molloy College and St. John's University and the Project Coordinator with the Catholic Roundtable.
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