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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

17th SUNDAY (A) - July 30, 2017

1 Kings 3: 5, 7-12; Psalm 119; Romans 8: 28-30; Matthew 13: 44-52

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

 

  The 17th

Sunday in

Ordinary

Time

Have you told stories to children? Fairytales? Brothers Grim? How about Cinderella, a children’s favorite? To refresh your memory and for our foreign readers: a wealthy widower with one daughter marries a proud and haughty woman with two daughters — not nice people. They torment Cinderella. But there is a fairy godmother who transforms her so she can go to the king’s ball. At the ball the prince sees and falls in love with her. But, as instructed by the fairy godmother, Cinderella has to leave at midnight. The hour comes and she rushes off leaving her glass slipper behind. With the slipper in hand the prince searches for her throughout the kingdom. He enters her home where the sisters try on the slipper first, it doesn’t fit. But it does fit Cinderella. The prince has found his love, there is a royal wedding and the fairy tale ends happily. Isn’t that what we expect from fairytales? The ordinary person is raised up to a castle and a throne – a happy and predictable ending.

Not so with the parables. They twist and turn and surprise us. They were Jesus’ favorite way to tell us about God and God’s unusual ways. Matthew’s way of signaling the beginning of a parable has Jesus announcing, "The kingdom of heaven is like...." In these deceptive and unusual stories Jesus described how God is present and acts among us. The reign of God is so amazing and happens in such unexpected ways, that you can’t define or directly describe it. So, Jesus tells stories about it, encouraging us to use our imaginations and see the endless possibilities.

The disciples must have been a bit disappointed when they heard Jesus’ parables. They were looking for triumph and prestige. Where were the victorious kings, military might and revolutionary leaders in Jesus’ simple tales? Where were the power and the extraordinary? Is that what we look for as we anticipate God’s working in our world – power, spectacle and success? But in his parables Jesus hints that we need to look for God breaking into our lives elsewhere and in surprising ways, for he said, "The kingdom of heaven is in your midst." The parables can open our eyes and ears to God’s unexpected and surprising ways.

In other words, when Jesus speaks of the kingdom it’s not in the next life. As the saying goes, "The kingdom of heaven is either here, or it is no where." Isn’t that what Jesus taught us to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer – "Thy kingdom come" – the manifestation of God’s ways in our time and place? We Christians believe in the Incarnation, the mystery of the meeting of the divine and human in the person of Jesus. God has taken flesh and, as St. John puts it, "dwelt among us." So, Jesus tells parables, ordinary examples, hinting to us where, when and how to find God breaking into our lives. His parables are down to earth, like today’s – a man in a field, a businessman dealing in fine pearls, fishers with nets full of fish. Hardly like those paintings depicting the divine with clouds parting and with rays of sun shining down on Jesus’ face as he addresses the crowds, or heals a sick person.

Jesus wasn’t the first to tell stories about buried treasure. But in the stories of the Jewish tradition it is by hard work that a person discovers a treasure. If you observe all the religious laws, and do things right, you get your reward. In rabbinical treasure stories first you buy the field, then you work hard and the treasure will be there for you.

Most likely you and I were raised by parents who taught us the value of hard work. "You get what you work for." "The early bird catches the worm." Those were valuable life lessons; but Jesus isn’t teaching us how to be prosperous and successful. He has another project in mind; to teach his disciples how to spot the hand of God working in our lives: grace comes as an unearned gift and often in subtle ways that could be missed.

His parables can be very bold. It is as if he wants to shake us awake to tell us something we would never get on our own. The parable of the hidden treasure gets our attention. Jesus tells of a conniving person who happens to come upon a treasure, hides it and sells all he has to buy the field. Do we hear what is emerging? The treasure doesn’t come to a hard working, good person who deserves it. It comes as a discovery, a free gift. The person who discovers it realizes immediately the value of what he has found. He is filled with joy, then makes a big, personal sacrifice. He changes his life, adjusts it for the sake of the treasure. Note that there is no emphasis on the big sacrifice the man makes. He doesn’t make a sacrifice to earn the treasure; he discovers the treasure as a gift and then responds.

There is a basic truth in this brief parable, which we hear in all the parables. We are saved by a gracious act of God, not because of our own works. The motive for such a generous gift to us? – God loves us. In our world we earn love; in God’s world it comes as a gift.

Once we have discovered that God has gifted us with love what shall we do? We imitate the God we have discovered: we forgive people even before they have asked us; we help those considered unworthy; we reach out to the least on society’s fringe. Why would we do such foolish things in the eyes of the world? Because that is the way God has treated us.

Those who would describe ourselves as seekers, are encouraged by the parable of the jeweler’s search for fine pearls. Our seeking takes many forms: we make retreats; read books on spirituality, attend Scripture classes; enroll in the RCIA program in our parish; cut more time out of our schedule for prayer; read church and papal documents on social issues, etc. The search takes many forms and at the right time it is as if a light is turned on for us and we see the world and our lives in a new way. We have found the pearl of great price Life is completely changed and new for us.

Jesus doesn’t call people to God by threatening them with eternal punishment. Instead, through these parables and every thing he said and did, he showed us how close God is and invites us to enter more fully into the kingdom that is already present in our midst.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/073017.cfm

QUOTABLE

 

Christ has turned all our sunsets into dawns

—St. Clement of Alexandria

 

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart. . .

1 Kings 3: 9

Today’s first reading begins with a question. If God asked you what you wished, how would you respond? For Solomon, his response is profoundly wise. In the ancient world, the heart was where one’s mental capacities resided and this is reflected in the Hebrew word for heart "leb" that also means "mind." Compassion flows from an understanding heart and with that the wisdom to distinguish right from wrong and to do justice.

The best way that I know to develop an understanding heart is to offer to help others who have life experiences that are very different than yours. To walk with them and discover that their hopes and dreams and sorrows are the same as yours, will expand your heart and change your worldview. We have the month of August left in our summer season. Consider a "volunteer vacation" that allows you to travel while donating your time to a worthwhile cause. Supporting the poor and persecuted loosens the grip that abundance has on those of us blessed with much. For me, I remember with fondness, the summers when our family vacation included Saturdays spent working with Habitat families building their homes.

Pope Francis writes: "The first thing that Jesus teaches us is this: to encounter one another and, by encountering, to help. Encounter with the other makes the heart grow, increases the capacity to love… Jesus asks you just one thing: that you go, that you seek out and encounter the neediest. . .These people need us to share in their pain, in their anxieties, in their problems. They need us to look at them with love; it is necessary to go to encounter them, as Jesus did" (5/9/15.) Not only will you be helping to heal others, you will also be healing your own narrowness-of-heart. This is a vital aspect of Catholic spirituality. As the Maryknoll Lay Missioners write in their vision statement, "We discern the presence of God’s Spirit in all creation and in the world’s many cultures and religions."

To find out how you can take a volunteer vacation, check out these two websites: http://www.voluntourism.org/resources.html OR https://catholicvolunteernetwork.org/

For a longer commitment, consider becoming a Maryknoll Lay Missioner ("Where the Compassion of the Faithful Transforms Lives") http://www.mklm.org/become-a-missioner/

Ask God for an understanding heart.

Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries, Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field

which a person finds and hides again

and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Reflection:

Jesus doesn’t call people to God by threatening them with eternal punishment. Instead, through these parables and every thing he said and did, he showed us how close God is and invites us to enter more fully into the kingdom that is already present in our midst.

So we ask ourselves:

  • What have you "found" in life, as if by chance?
  • How has it changed your life?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"The use of the death penalty cannot really be mended. It should be ended."
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Danny Frogg #0137368 (On death row since 3/27/98)
  • Allen Holman #0587681 (4/7/98)
  • Timmy Grooms #0158506 (4/24/98)

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory 3150 Vince Hagan Drive Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://www.PreacherExchanhe.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

(These CDs have been updated twice in the last five years.)

2. "Homilias Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.org - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilias Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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