Fr. Michael challenges us to humbly accept God’s shaping grace for the form of our life, even if that grace may hurt in a few places.
Gospel: Matthew 13:47-53
Jesus said to the disciples:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea,
which collects fish of every kind.
When it is full they haul it ashore
and sit down to put what is good into buckets.
What is bad they throw away.
Thus it will be at the end of the age.
The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous
and throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
“Do you understand all these things?”
They answered, “Yes.”
And he replied,
“Then every scribe who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven
is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom
both the new and the old.”
When Jesus finished these parables, he went away from there.
Homily Transcript — Shaped According to God’s Design
We have three images that are suggested in our readings today. Two are parables from Matthew’s gospel that you just heard and another image from an alternate reading for today’s Mass from the prophet Jeremiah.
The first image that Jesus uses is, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, it pulls in all kinds of things and then Jesus says at the end of time there will be this last judgment, there will be this sorting out, separating the good from the bad.
Catholic social activist Dorothy Day, reflecting on this image said, ‘This image is suggestive of the Church. The kingdom of heaven (or the Church) is like this net thrown in that brings in all kinds of people, the good and the bad.’
Fr. Richard Rohr has observed that sometimes the best place to hide from God is inside church. You can pretend to be very holy by going to church often, but in your heart you can be holding onto prejudices and wickedness of all kinds. Detailing that image, Dorothy Day suggested that the Church pulls in all kinds of fish. It pulls in the good and the righteous, but it also pulls in a lot of blowfish and not a few sharks that feed on the other fish, but there will be a reckoning where God will separate the good from the bad. So it’s a warning for each one of us…just because we’re showing up here at church doesn’t mean that we’re guaranteed a place in God’s kingdom. We have to listen to the word of God and apply what the Lord is calling us to do. We have to change accordingly is the Lord’s commandments.
The second image that the Lord suggests in today’s gospel is the Kingdom of God is like a Scribe who is been instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven and he brings forth from the storehouse both the new and the old. I love that image.
When I first came to the Bellarmine retreat house back in the 1990s I had little business cards made that I could give out to people with my name and address and phone number and email and I put this quote from Matthew’s gospel on there: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a Scribe who brings from the household both the new and the old.” I think that’s what we’re called to be: people who are rooted in our tradition—who know the traditions of our faith. We know about the saints, we know about the Councils of the Church, we know about Catholic social teaching and we’re able to apply that to the unique circumstances in which we live. We’re able to adapt to the culture. We can change what needs to be changed and we hold onto what is eternal and what will never be changed. That’s the wise Scribe who can discriminate between, ‘This can be changed, we don’t need to hold onto this, but this is essential. We hold these truths as essential to our faith.’ That’s the wise Scribe who can discriminate.
The third image that is given in our readings today comes from an alternate reading from the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah suggests that God is like this potter. Now, I have a particular affinity because I have studied pottery. I’m not by any means a great potter, but this is an example of one of my handiworks. When I was taking a course in pottery I made some cups and made one for my dad and one for my mom. This one is inscribed on the bottom to my mom. I made it back in 1992, so many years ago.
I have a couple friends who are master potters who have dedicated their life to that craft and who have created exquisite works. The prophet Jeremiah says, ‘God is like the master potter and we’re like the clay.’ Now, that may be an image that just evokes all kinds of warm fuzzy feelings in our hearts but if you’ve ever watched a potter or if you’ve ever done any pottery at all, you know that clay comes in a hard chunk and the first thing that the potter does when he or she starts to work with the clay is pound the hell out of it, literally.
They punch the clay because it’s so darn hard and it needs to to be broken and it needs to be kneaded and that process is hard work. Potters hands are strong hands and the clay is resistant because it likes this solid shape you know? It comes in and a big chunk and the potter has to pound and pound the clay and break it and work it and then eventually, in the process, then the clay becomes malleable and then it can be formed and shaped.
Jeremiah says that clay is us. We like being who we are. “I’m a good person! I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m a good person and I’m doing just fine.” And God says, “Okay, you want to be shaped according to my design? You want to be able to hold the mysteries of the Kingdom of God? Then let me go to work on you.” And you say, “Oh, yes Lord, yes Lord.” And then the Lord comes in and his grace hits us where we’re most vulnerable. Then you say, “Oh! Lord, when I said I would give my life to you unconditionally I didn’t mean that you would hit me there. I didn’t mean that you would hurt me there.”
And of course the Lord takes no delight in hurting us. That’s not the goal. The Lord is not some sadist, but what the Lord does want to do is shape us and form us into a people pleasing to him.
Take St. Ignatius Loyola whose feast day we celebrated a couple of days ago. St. Ignatius was a proud, rich, spoiled young brat. He was filled with himself and so what needed to happen, he needed to have literally both of his legs broken and come within a hair’s breadth of losing his life before he could start to listen to what the Lord was saying to him and he would walk with a limp for the rest of his life as God’s gentle reminder of who he had been in who the Lord had called him to be.
Take St. Francis of Assisi, another spoiled, rich young brat and he went off to win military victory for himself and it was only when he was captured and was sitting in prison that he began to think about, “What’s the purpose of my life?”
Or take St. Peter Faber, one of the first companions of St. Ignatius Loyola. He was a brilliant man; much smarter in academics than St. Ignatius Loyola, but he was afflicted by scruples. St. Ignatius worked with him to be able to sort through a voice of perfectionism that only brought him to discouragement from the gentle voice of God that formed him and fashioned him into an extraordinarily compassionate and wise confessor and spiritual director.
So it is with each one of us. We have these areas in our life where we resist God’s grace. Sometimes it just feels like the Lord is pounding us and he’s forgotten about us, but if we can hold onto that image from the prophet Jeremiah, what God is doing is shaping us and forming us into something that is useful for His Kingdom. The more compliant we are to God’s grace, then the more the Lord can shape us and form us into something beautiful for God.
When all is said and done, isn’t that the purpose of our life? Isn’t that why we’re here?