A Dominican Sister Theologian reflects on the FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION
Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 2 Peter 1:16-19 Matthew 17:1-9
I confess that at certain times in my life I’ve become a news junkie, checking in frequently during the day to see if there are any twists, turns, or breaking headlines. From the night of the election on, it seems that my understanding of events and my expectations about their outcomes at the time I’ve gone to sleep have been challenged by the morning news and tweets. I struggle to evaluate and make sense of any new developments, to discern any shifts in trajectories, to re-formulate a coherent—if still incomplete—narrative. And I wonder what today will bring in terms of leaks, investigations and actions.
In reflecting on today’s Scripture, which really is good news, I began to wonder how it might be reported today; in fact, how might all the events in the Gospel be reported in our time, if they were occurring now? For the Gospels are reflections on previous events that are woven together in relatively coherent narratives. But what if those events were simply tweeted out, or posted on Facebook, or found in news headlines?
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism might go like this:
John baptizes newcomer; strange events occur #Jesus #beloved Son
“Beloved son” in secret desert meetings with devil #Jesus #beloved Son # Satan
Or a chapter before today’s passage, when Jesus asks his disciples who people think he is:
Jesus’ identity revealed #identity Messiah
Peter blessed for his answer # Peter # keys to the Kingdom
Peter rejects suffering messiah, rebuked by Jesus #Peter #Satan
Followers expected to carry cross, lose lives #discipleship
Jesus glorified; disciples see Moses and Elijah # identity Beloved Son
Jesus predicts death and resurrection #identity Son of Man; #suffering, death and resurrection
Every time Jesus’ special relationship with God is acknowledged, temptation, suffering and/or death form the next headline. And in the midst of this back and forth, we are told that we, too, can expect suffering, hardship, even death.
These dynamics of glory and pain, understanding and misunderstanding, testing the spirits and being tested by them, are part of our lives, too. We can all look back on moments in our lives in which the presence of God was clear and transformative, when we knew without doubt that we were God’s beloved son or daughter. We’ve experienced success, community, affirmation, recognition. Yet the sign of the cross is never far away. We have each also experienced loss: death of family and friends, perhaps loss of a job or our health, perhaps moving from a familiar place to come to Adrian, perhaps memory or other capacities. We’ve experienced failure, misunderstanding, disappointment, rejection.
The challenge then is to keep weaving that coherent narrative. Whatever befalls us, whatever suffering we choose to endure for the sake of justice, whatever the losses and dislocations and letting go—we possess the prophetic message that we are God’s beloved daughters and sons, that through what we do and endure, we are being transfigured. Today we are being invited to look more deeply into our lives, into world events, into the creation we are part of, to see the glory always present, always desiring to shine forth.
As St. Paul says in Corinthians: “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. All of us, gazing on the Lord’s glory with unveiled faces, are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image by the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:17-18). That is the prophetic message, the vision and inspiration that provides a deep narrative. It could be considered “alternative facts” but not “fake news.” Actually it is, in the fullest sense, good news.
Patricia Walter, OP
A Dominican Friar (Priest) reflects on the Sunday (July 30) Scriptures
1 Kings 3: 5, 7-12 Romans 8: 28-38 Matthew 13: 44-52
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
For three Sundays, the gospel readings have been parables about the kingdom of heaven. We have heard the Parables of the Sower, Weeds and Wheat, Mustard Seed, Yeast, Buried Treasure, Precious Pearl, and Dragnet. What I find interesting about the telling of the first two parables is that after each one it appears that Jesus provides an explanation for their meaning. However, the Dominican Scripture Scholar, Barbara Reid, OP, reminds us that before the parables were written down, they were told and retold by people who added details according to the circumstances and situations in which they lived. First century story tellers used allegories to connect features of Jesus’ parables with their own political, religious, and community happenings. Barbara goes on to say that people usually see God as the sower in the first parable. It is God, the farmer, who throws the word out to good people as well as to bad people. The parable is an illustration of God’s all-inclusive love for human beings.
In the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds, the early Christian community recognized Jesus as the landowner. The field is the world, the good seed is the children of God, and the weeds are evildoers. The parable is an illustration of God’s love for those who endure in a world of evil through their persistent patience and their enduring faith.
With all this said, we come to the Parable of the Buried Treasure and the Parable of the Precious Pearl. These two parables are found only in the Gospel of Matthew and they belong with each other as did the first two parables. The usual interpretation of these two parables is that Jesus is both the hidden treasure and the precious pearl. As we go through life, we are the unnamed person and the merchant who first seek Jesus and then someday find Jesus. It is up to us to sell all that we have to possess him.
But I suggest to you that because God and Jesus are the central characters of the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds, when it comes to the Parable of the Buried Treasure and the Precious Pearl, God is the unnamed person who is preoccupied with purchasing the field. God is the merchant who is infatuated with obtaining the precious pearl. In other words, God spends hours admiring the two prizes. God dreams about the two valuables all through the night. Most importantly, God tells Jesus that for the buried treasure and the precious pearl no cost is too great, not even his life. This makes us the valued treasure. This makes us the precious pearl. How then are we promoting the kingdom of heaven through who we are and what we do?
A Dominican Friar (Priest) reflects on the Sunday (July 16) Scriptures
Isaiah 55: 10-11 Romans 8:18-23 Matthew 13:1-23
Before embarking on a ship for a cruise, traveling in our cars to a new location, or flying in a jet to a popular tourist spot, many of us will ask our travel agents, search the Internet, and go to our public library for information about our long-awaited trip. And after we receive or find brightly colored brochures, detailed maps, and interesting articles we devour them, committing every bit of information to memory making the new found knowledge part of who we are before we ever leave our homes.
For the next three Sundays, we journey through the parables of the Kingdom in Matthew’s gospel. On the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we hear the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:1-23). On the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we hear the Parable of the Weeds and Wheat, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, and the Parable of the Yeast (Mt.13:24-30). On the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we hear the Parable of the Buried Treasure, the Parable of the Precious Pearls, and the Parable of the Drag Net (Mt 13:44-52). But before embarking on our trip we should take a look at where we are going. We should know that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke use different expressions for the “Kingdom.” In Matthew’s gospel, the Kingdom refers to the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven, is a place beyond us that is sometimes close at hand and at other times far away. A reality we can reach for but never quite get our hands on. In the gospels of Mark and Luke, the Kingdom refers to the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the sovereignty or authority of God. It is an assurance that a power greater than ourselves is taking care of all things.
We should know that the coming of the Kingdom is the main theme of the Christian Scriptures. John the Baptist shouts out, “Do penance for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” (Mt 3:2). Jesus repeats the same message (Mt 4:17) but adds more. Jesus tells us that the kingdom is a craving, a desire, a hope. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 5:3). “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mt 18:3).
Jesus tells us that the Kingdom is a location, a place, a physical reality. “Truly I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God” (Mk 14:25). “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John; yet they who are least in the Kingdom of God are greater than John” (Lk 7:28) Jesus tells us that the Kingdom is a behavior, a way of life, a way of being. “Your Kingdom come, your will be done” (Mt 6:10). “Leave the dead to bury the dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God” (Lk 9:60).
After learning more about the route we will be traveling these next few weeks, I think people will agree with me that there are many meanings and different understandings about the Kingdom. From my experience as a high school teacher I came to the conclusion that when a belief or idea has too many meanings, human beings avoid making any meaning their own. So that while over and over again we hear and pray about the Kingdom we fail to make the Kingdom part of who we are. Nevertheless, throughout history people have challenged us to grasp the Kingdom and make it our own.
In 1894 Leo Tolstoy wrote The Kingdom of God Is Within You. The book reveals Tolstoy’s belief about the Kingdom after his conversion to Christianity. Tolstoy argues that the core teachings of the Kingdom by Jesus have been lost. Tolstoy writes that the Kingdom is within the reach of all of us through passive resistance to evil. Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were both inspired by Tolstoy’s explanation of the Kingdom.
After reflecting on scripture and reading the work of Tolstoy, I have come to believe that the Kingdom of God is a tone of mind, a state of consciousness. It is a deep human disposition whereby, with the grace of God, we try to become one with God and live according to God’s call. The Kingdom is discovering God within us as well as in others. So yesterday, today, and tomorrow we continue the journey to the Kingdom of God that we began years ago with our baptisms.