A Dominican Friar reflects: WHAT IF . . . .?
We have all spoken words of magic. Think about the times when doors have been open, packages have floated through the air, heavy pieces of furniture have skated across the floor, and yes oh yes, a glass of cold milk and warm cookies suddenly appeared because you spoke the magic words, “Please and Thank-you!”
You may not know this but there is a process to learning magic. When we carefully study the education of the wizard in training Harry Potter, we see that the magic words he speaks like, “glissea,” “immobolus,” and “expecto protonum” are not effective unless they are accompanied by an outstretched hand or the wave of a magic wand. Both gestures and words are required to create magic until after years and years of training, words alone can create the magic.
In the Gospel of Matthew we have been given a collection of parables about the kingdom of heaven. We can say that parables are words of magic that offer to the people who hear them an experience of Jesus and a deeper relationship with God. The magic of the parables brings the people who hear them face to face with the love of God and forces them to either receive God’s love or to continue constructing their own self-centered lives.
The scripture scholar William Barclay explains the magic of parables: (1) Parables make the truth concrete by a turning it into a picture which people can envision and understand. (2) Parables begin from the here and now in order to lead to the there and then. In other words parables begin with the familiar in order to teach something new. (3) Parables, like most story-telling techniques, compel interest. (4) Parables enable a person to discover a truth or an idea for her or himself. Because the words were spoken and not read, the impact of the parable had to be immediate, making the truth flash upon a person as lightning suddenly illuminates a pitch-dark night. (5) For those unwilling to accept its message, the parable remains a mystery.
The magic words of the parable of the wheat and weeds that we hear on the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time were spoken by Jesus because of the criticism he and his disciples received from the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees and Pharisees separated themselves from the tax collectors and sinners whom they saw as unclean and outside the saving power of God. But Jesus made a point of searching sinners out to teach them of God’s love in the words he spoke and the miracles he performed. So the magic of the parable of the weeds and wheat rejects elitism; stresses the fact that the human community is a combination of both good and bad; that all judgment belongs to God; that judgment will take place only at the end of the world; and that there is ample opportunity for every person to change and grow. Evildoers can respond to God’s offer of love and turn to goodness. Weeds can be transformed into wheat. What magic is greater than this?
The explanation of the parable that Jesus gives to his disciples after returning to the house does not come directly from Jesus. The words were spoken some eighty years after the resurrection of Jesus when members of Matthew’s community are trying to prevent the community from splitting apart. Some members of the community believed that the community needed to be purified by tossing out the less than perfect Christians. While others believed that the church that follows Jesus should not play God. Any separation of people must be left to God at the last judgment. The work of the church is to preach repentance and practice patience not to question or condemn its members.
Through the magic words of the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven, Jesus taught that even insignificant beginnings, a small seed, a little yeast, a group of twelve followers, can bring forth a new and better world.
We have had years and years of training saying the magic words “please” and “thank-you” and reaching out for the help we need. Now we are able to use words alone to create the magic that is needed for the kingdom of heaven in our world. I suggest to you that the magic words are “What if. . . .”
What if everybody reached out with their hand?
What if everybody sang out with their voice?
What if everybody cared with their heart?
What if everybody accepted change for the sake of our mission?
“What if, What if, What if” are words of magic that will open doors, remove obstacles, and lead us forth into a new and better tomorrow.