This parable today reminded me of a man (I am going to call him Dan but that is not his real name) and his wife, members of my former parish in Ohio, who were very active in the parish community. Each Sunday they would attend the 9 am mass and like most Catholic’s they would sit in the same pew, center right four rows from the front. After about 10 years of knowing them and ministering with them Dan told me he was entering the RCIA program, I was shocked because I though he was already Catholic.
How could he not be Catholic, Dan was one of us, he worshiped with us, served with us, grew spiritually with us. I never knew he was not one of us because he did what we did. He knew the prayers of the church; he knew when to stand, to kneel or to sit, he said the rosary and signed up for the unwanted hours of adoration. He was not a casual visitor he was part of us not a curious outsider considering our faith.
Why did he come to my mind after reading the readings for this Sunday? I was reminded of because the parables Jesus spoke were confusing to people. Much of what we do in the Church is a mystery and confusing to people of other faiths. They ask the same questions the disciples asked of Jesus when he spoke in parables. What does that mean? Why do you do that? Help us understand so we can understand how that helps anyone grow closer to God.
It is important to note Jesus in today’s parable says, “he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it…but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.”
He spoke in parables and those who have not yet decided to follow him had trouble understanding the meaning of his words. However, to those who had decided to follow him as disciples he explained every parable in private.
This is an important difference and is something we need to consider today. Where do we stand in our decision to give our hearts to God and become the people he is calling us to become. That man Dan of whom I spoke about earlier, for all outward appearances, was a good faithful Catholic. He served and used his gifts to benefit others. He prayed and worshipped with the community. He gave of his treasure to support the church and its ministries. He went to a men’s fellowship and was active in spiritual growth programs. He began to understand he was holding back something and God was calling him to be a disciple to be more than good.
We are called to become disciples – those who live inside the kingdom of God. Disciples, who have the mysteries of God explained to us by the Spirit. Before you go off tangent and your mind races off somewhere I will acknowledge what you are thinking – the disciples even after having some parables explained often failed to understand. That does not mean that Jesus did not explain to them the meaning of the parable and how to apply it to their lives. It does mean that we need more than an explanation of the parable we need the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to open our minds to understand.
Jesus’ told us in that upper room, “…the Spirit will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jn.14:26). That Spirit did not come upon them until Pentecost but for us it is just waiting for an invitation to enlighten your minds and hearts to the meaning of the parables and the life God is calling you to live.
Here is the key for us as we hear this parable of Jesus from the gospel of Mark. Dan as he entered the RCIA program, understood that Jesus wants us to live as disciples able to do all the external things we do for and in our parishes but more importantly able to stand before everyone and acknowledge God wants more from us – he wants us to give him our heart. That was exactly what Dan was doing as he professed his faith in Jesus Christ.
Pay attention to the parable because they are beautiful stories of hidden treasure, birds in the air, flowers blooming, seed being sown, yeast rising, lights being hidden and at the same time they are not about those things at all. Each parable is a call to conversion to give your heart, mind, strength and soul to God. They should cause us to have internal turmoil as we know we are falling short of what God expects of us as disciples.
Dan was happy going to church for those ten years I knew him, but something was gnawing inside him because he knew there was something more required of him. How did he get to that point? He heard a parable about a rich young man who did everything required by the law. Dan asked himself the same question that young man asked Jesus – “is it enough.”
No, it isn’t enough to just to know when to stand and when to sit. It is not enough to offer our time and our talent to serve the community. No, it isn’t enough to give of our money to support the ministry of the church. We can do those things without ever opening our hearts to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit working in us to become disciples.
This parable we hear today is a challenge to become greater than we believe we can be within the kingdom of God. It, like every other parable, is a challenge to produce fruit that changes lives.