23 July 2009

Occult knowledge, hidden treasure

16th Week OT (Thur): Ex 19.1-20; Matt 13.10-17
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Sisters of St Mary of Namur

If you were ask a corporate communications expert to rate the efficiency of using parables as a means of training new company executives, she would likely rate this particular pedagogical method somewhat several notches below zero. Parables are inherently vague and thus subject to a variety of potentially conflicting interpretations. Not good for the bottom-line. Of course, the business world has its own problems with using plain language to convey important ideas: action item, buzz-worthy, incent, pushback, and monetize. The grammatical sin of nouning verbs and verbing nouns has turned our beloved English language into a viper's nest, a linguistic Sodom and Gomorrah. Even in Catholic religious life we fall to the lusts of the demon-god, Jar-gon: missional, outreaching, lived-experience, and re-visioning. As the teacher of a New Way to God, Jesus relied on ancient images, old words; he taught his disciples using familiar metaphors and comfortable similes. He also used the dodgiest of all teaching methods, the parable. Though sometimes tempting listeners to hear and hold contradictory interpretations, parables provide at least one vital service to the preaching of the Gospel: room to grow and flourish out of the fertile ground of a Biblical witness. Those who hear hear the ancient story of God's loving-kindness for His people. They hear Him offering to anyone who will listen and answer the deal of an eternal life-time.

The early Church was challenged by a variety of gnostic sects that laid claim to “occult knowledge” of Jesus' teaching. Claiming to know the hidden truth of our Lord's teachings, these first-century New Agers read today's gospel passage from Matthew and argued that not just anyone could hear the parables and understand them—one must have the secret keys to unlock the parables' treasures. Those without the key may “look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” The gurus of the gnostic sects thought they alone possessed the keys to unlock the kingdom's mysteries. They were willing to share. . .for a price, of course. The orthodox faith of the apostolic Fathers is offered to all for free. Just look and listen.

When asked why he uses parables to teach the crowds, Jesus answers: “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.” How quickly do we draw the wrong conclusions from the fact that the disciples are given special knowledge? Too quickly. True, the disciples are given special access to “knowledge of the mysteries.” Special access not exclusive access. Because they have been given much, they receive more. But they receive more because they have freely received all that Christ has given them. A gift is not a gift until it is received as a gift. Bribes, compensation for work, incentives—none of these is a gift. They all describe monetary exchanges for services or stuff. Jesus says that access to the mysteries is granted to all who first receive the gift of seeing and hearing the goodness and beauty of God's everlasting gift of recreation in divine love. Those who listen to his parables with ears blessed by an abiding hope in him hear the truth play like an orchestra. To understand we must first believe.

Parables cannot obscure the vision of those who receive and use God's gifts. Freely given and freely received, God's graces sharpen the eyes and unstop the ears. The truths of salvation embedded in the metaphors and similes of Jesus' parables jump out at the faithful heart. Longing to be grasped and put to use, these truths thrive abundantly in the soil of an obedient soul. There are no riddles or puzzles to solve. No secret codes to decipher or mysterious occult rituals to perform. The keys to our Father's treasure-house hang freely on the hook of faith. First, trust in His Word of Life and then take away with as much gold as you can carry. The test of the true apostle is this: how much of that gold will you surrender to those who hunger for the health and wealth of His love?

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