16th SUNDAY IN
ORDINARY TIME - YEAR A
Today's Gospel gives us both a parable and then
an interpretation of that parable. I'm very grateful for this
pattern in the 13th chapter of Matthew's Gospel. It indicates
to us that not everything that Jesus says should be taken literally.
Clearly the disciples were sometimes confused and needed some
private coaching to bring them up to speed with what Jesus was
As much as I respect the faith of our fundamentalist
Christian brothers and sisters, it is at this point, on the way
we interpret the Scriptures, that we cannot agree. The catholic
community has always taken the process outlined in Matthew's gospel
very seriously. We have always held that the full richness of
the scriptures needs careful study and tested interpretations.
Unfortunately, in previous generations, the anxiety
over people's private interpretations of the scriptures led Catholics
to be suspicious of the Bible and the private reading of it. To
read the Bible was often seen as a ‘very protestant thing to do'.
Given that Jesus, Mary, the apostles and the disciples are all
recorded in the New Testament as reading, meditating on, or hearing
the scriptures, nothing could be further from the truth. To be
a Christian is to ponder the Word of God.
That's why the Second Vatican Council encouraged
us all to return to regular private reflection on the Bible. Along
with this encouragement they also reminded us, however, that as
strong as the feelings and revelations we experience in our private
scriptural prayer may be, these may have little or no consequence
for the wider community of faith. We believe that the whole Church
has the task to discern where the Word of God is leading us.
To help this discernment, it's scholars who pay
great attention to the history and the literary, textual and cultural
issues in and around the Bible have always aided the catholic
community. They look at how various interpretations and approaches
of the Scriptures have helped or hindered the Church over the
centuries. We place great weight on the 'here and now' of the
faith community who listens to the Word of God and lives it out.
Our approach is a long way from those who hold
that the entire truth of the scriptures is found in the text itself.
Fundamentalist interpretations of the scriptures dismiss the importance
of studying the scriptures by reducing it to a book of facts.
In doing so they tie themselves up in all sorts of textual knots
whenever the scriptures seem to contradict themselves.
We hold, however, that the scriptures are not
books of facts, though they contain historical information. We
believe we have seventy-three sacred books that ‘cannot err in
leading us to the truth about God'. The Word of God is for us
the pathway to faith, a series of revealed and inspired portraits
of God and a distillation of God's saving love for us and our
response to him.
When there are inconsistencies or differences
in any two scriptural texts, rather than unsettle us, we see these
differences as examples of the varying rich approaches to the
truth of our salvation in and through Christ. This is nicely summed
up in the verse, The Bible in 50 words.
At this Eucharist let's give thanks that Jesus
often used stories to communicate his truth and that he explained
their meaning to those with ears to hear. Let's be grateful that
we are inheritors of this intelligent legacy.