This weekend we have more parables from Jesus. Parables are used to change a person’s frame of mind. They are a means of retooling one’s brain. In his reflection in Celebration Fr. Roger Karban illustrates this by telling the old story of a young man who pulls his sports car up to a grizzled New England farmer and asks for directions. The farmer climbs down from his tractor, stares at the ground for a few seconds, then looks up and solemnly announces, “You can’t get there from here.”
Fr. Karban goes on to say, “That’s exactly what parables do. They tell the listener, ‘You can’t get to where I am unless you first change your frame of mind.’”
In today’s Gospel passage Jesus assumes that everyone in his audience would sell all they had to buy a field with a buried treasure in it, or to acquire a pearl for which they had searched a lifetime. Why then wouldn’t they also sell everything they had to possess the kingdom of heaven? It’s far more valuable than any treasure or pearl, and the only thing that will bring real fulfillment in this life. Fr. Karban continues:
Jesus calls his followers to create a new frame of mind in order to experience God’s working in their lives; and at the same time, he’s still insisting they recognize that such a life-giving presence challenges everything. God’s kingdom doesn’t automatically annihilate all other kingdoms. Life remains complicated and we will have to continually sort things out.
He explains this with another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age.”
In other words, we bring forth God’s kingdom in a “mixed net.” We can’t wait to make our moves of faith until everything and everyone is perfect. I have yet to experience a perfect Catholic parish or a perfect Catholic leader. Jesus expects his followers to play the hand they’re dealt, to act on the insights their new mentality provides, no matter the environment and circumstances in which those insights arrive. For most of us, the “end of the age” is still a long way down the road. We’ll have to spend the rest of our lives living in this intermingled world.
Our Gospel passage today ends with Jesus saying, “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the old and the new.” We see the Hebrew Scriptures through the filter of the kingdom of heaven, seeing things others don’t notice. Like Jesus, we focus on people, not regulations, often surprising ourselves with what we can surface when people are at the center of our field of vision.