In Father Hanly’s beautiful homily for 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, he sheds light on this week’s parables and why it is that some “look but do not see, and hear but do not listen or understand.”
Readings for Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
- First Reading: Ezekiel 17:22-24
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16
- Second Reading: Second Corinthians 5:6-10
- Gospel: Mark 4:26-34
I like parables. Parables are little stories that are kind of wise sayings. They’re a phenomenon of the Hebrew world, where a teacher would speak, instead of directly, he’d speak in parables.
And the opening for every parable, whether it is recorded or not, is “The Kingdom of God is…”
“The Kingdom of God is like a man who sows seed in the ground.” “The Kingdom of God is like a man who finds a great pearl and sells everything so that he can buy the pearl.” “The Kingdom of God…”
And then you say, “What is this Kingdom of God?”
Well, the first thing is, in Matthew and in Mark and in Luke but not in John, there are many parables and they all have that same beginning: “The Kingdom of God…”
And we know what the Kingdom of God is. It’s the person of God. Where God reigns, where God is respected, where God is thought about, where God works among a people who care and love and are with Him, this is what the Kingdom of God is like.
So the first one, the first parable…
Parables are short stories and they’re used by Jesus whenever he wants to speak something that’s close to his heart. And his teaching is not just the truth, his teaching is in the love.
To love is to know and to know is to love. In the children’s catechism, if you remember, “To know Him is to love Him, and to love Him is to serve Him, and to serve Him is to experience His love.”
This is from the very first pages of the catechism. If somebody says, “Why did God make you?” Remember? “To know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in the next.”
We take that so much for granted that we forget what it implies. It implies in a world that is quite different from the world that we have come to know.
A closeness with God, a caring with God.
And God loves us as we love Him, and cares for us as we care for Him, and watches over us as we pray and watch with Him.
This is the great meaning of what it means to be a Catholic, a Christian, a one who loves.
Parables then are ways of saying, “This is what it means to be a Christian. This is what it means to understand who you are.”
And yet there’s another side to these parables. Parables are used by Jesus and sometimes he’s very strong and he says, if I can find that…
They say, “Why are you always talking in these parables?’
And Jesus speaks to them and he says, “Seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen nor do they understand, for this people’s heart has grown dull.
“And their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes so that they might not look with their eyes and listen with their ears and understand with their heart and turn and I would heal them.”
Those are very strong words.
And then he turns to his disciples and says, ““But blessed are your eyes for you see, and your ears for you hear. And I truly tell you that many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see now but did not see it, and to hear what you hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
What is the difference?
Here, remember, you have a preacher. And the preacher is a simple preacher. And he usually goes out into a little boat, because there’s such great crowds following him, and he preaches to the people from the boat. And he preaches the Kingdom of God is this and the Kingdom of God is that.
And there are two main groups that are there listening. There are the scribes and Pharisees, and they listen to the same words that the ordinary people, the ordinary people of that time and that place, they hear the same thing.
And on one head of one group there is anger in their eyes, and in another there is great peace and happiness. And they hear the same message.
And what’s the difference?
I think, finally, after many mission years…
I’ve often wondered all the time why is it that all these ordinary people hear these words and are carried in great feeling and wonder.
And the other people hear the same things and they say, “Well, uhm, this, that and the other thing.” And they have questions to ask and they have to be answered in a certain way.
And Jesus gets very tired of them, but eventually he doesn’t even talk to them in the language that they expect.
And what’s the difference?
Well, I’ll tell you the difference. The difference is love.
We hear “teacher” and we think, “What’s he going to tell us from up here (touching his head)?” but we don’t say, “What would you do to us down here (touching his heart)?”
And Jesus is the teacher who touches down here (touching his heart) and then reaches for the explanation if you want it.
Think of that. It makes the words we say so much more precious. It’s as if the hidden God remains hidden.
The hidden God remains hidden why?
Because he does not trust people who just think with their head and have forgotten their heart, have forgotten that you must live by your heart, you must live by the feeling, you must live by the understanding that the heart deep down inside you whispers to you and tells you, and then the head becomes important.
The head is full of explanations; the heart is full of love. The heart is not happy unless it’s loved. In fact, it’s awkwardly unhappy when it doesn’t get love.
Explanations are very easy. If I got up to you and I read from St. Thomas Aquinas, I’d give you the wonders of explanations. He explains everything, book after book after book, and a marvellous writer of explanations.
But when he comes to something that he cares about, his heart speaks out: “Blessed are you Lord God of Heaven and Earth! Blessed are you Lord God who has taught me how to know you and to love you and to be with you.”
And so it is that when we think of the parables, they’re not hidden mysteries. The parables are basically a heart talking to a heart.
And they’re understood by all who know that God has come not to explain the world to us, but to teach us how to live in the world, just as we are, not with all kinds of constant questions of explain this and explain that, and this and that.
There used to be a programme on, a wonderful little TV programme. It was in Chinese and the heroine in this Chinese programme was a little girl and she was always asking questions, asking questions, asking questions.
And she’d say, when somebody would say, “The moon is there.” And she’d say, “And shining.”
And then she’d say, “Why? Why?”
“And now we will go home and we’re going to leave this wonderful place and we’re going to go home, blah blah blah blah.”
And then her father would say, “Well, we’re going to have this, that and the other thing.”
Why? Why? Why?
If you go to Jesus and say, “Why do you wear those clothes?” “Why do you talk this way?” “Why do you speak the way you do?” “Why do you alienate the Pharisees when they are the people who are most powerful?” “Why do you take care of poor people, because…”
“Why?” And never waits for an answer.
The answer’s very simple, isn’t it?
The answer is love. Without love we’re nothing, nothing.
God is what? God is the creator of Heaven and Earth?
No, God is love.
God is love. If you touch love, you’ve touched God. If you reach out for love, you’re reaching out for God. If you come out and see the beauty of the world and you’re filled with a kind of a hunger in your heart, you’re touching God.
And so it is today, on Father’s Day, which is a nice day to say it, we’re here to learn how to love, because this is why he came.
He didn’t come to give you answers, money, success, how to run things, how to do things.
All he says to his disciples…
When he calls them he doesn’t say, “Now I’m going to pay you so much and give you so much. And you can get this and you can have that. And you can organise your life and then go out, and you can blah blah blah blah blah.”
All he says is: “Come, follow me.” And it’s everything.
“Come follow me. Walk with me, live with me, listen not just to me, but listen to all these people that are around and searching and looking for kindness and forgiveness and love and caring and to make it a world worth living in.”
The head can create a world, but that world might not be worth living in. But the heart, the heart, the heart, the heart of God forms all these beautiful, beautiful, beautiful events for us.
And so it is Jesus is talking to them today and he says to them:
“The kingdom of God is like a man who scatters seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and through it all the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.”
And what Jesus is saying to the people, “God loves you so much, He does it all.
“All you do is flip the seed into the ground and He takes care of everything. And you sleep and you eat and you talk and you decide.”
But Jesus is saying, “Your Heavenly Father never sleeps, never stops loving, never stops reaching out, never stops worrying about what you are going to have or not have.”
And so it is that the first parable “What is the Kingdom of God?” it means God cares.
God is the one who is creating and giving all that we have that is worthwhile. And we can pick the strawberries and we can do the little stuff and heat the coffee. But from beginning to end it is the love of God that gives us everything that we have.
In the second parable…
The second one is even nicer. In the second one he says to them:
“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
With many such parables
he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.
Without parables he did not speak to them,
but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.
What did he explain?
Nothing special. What he explained was not an explanation. In private, he taught them how to love.
And once they knew how to love the way he loves, and care the way he cares, that mustard seeds could become centres for all the birds in the sky and come down and nest and have their little chicks and fill the world with joy and peace.
“The word is made flesh and dwells among us.”
Hear him, love him, follow him.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.