Parables are never enough, because they do not pass and speak to eternity

Homiletics of the Fathers of The Island of Patmos


«There is something that you cannot find anywhere in the world, yet there is a place where you can find it»










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Like a painter who, once the work is finished, places his signature on the side of the painting, so Matthew, with a phrase, initials the page of the Gospel where he depicted, in narrative form, the parables of Jesus, an entire speech dedicated to the Kingdom of God:

«For this every scribe, become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven, is like a landlord who extracts new and old things from his treasure » [Mt 13, 52].

Matthew the tax collector [Mt 9,9] he has now become the wise scribe who saw the work of reinterpretation of the ancient deposit of faith accomplished in Jesus, bringing new and unexpected realities to light. Therefore he invites his readers and disciples to become those owners who do not keep for themselves the riches of the unsuspected newness of the Kingdom, but they also know how to offer it generously.

The abundance of parables on the lips of Jesus that describe the Kingdom of God is not surprising, as well as the multiplication of metaphors, symbols and images. Because they compose a reality that continually exceeds and surpasses every human measure, while respecting it. Since the Kingdom belongs to God, it cannot be circumscribed or enclosed in a single formula. The different parables on the mouth of Jesus express the complexity and polysemy of this new theological reality and who collected them, as it will be for the Gospels which are four and not just one[1], he felt that by placing them next to each other, all together, had something important to say about the Kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurates, explains and makes present.

But here is finally the evangelical page of this XVII Sunday of time for a year:

«At that time Jesus said to his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field; a man finds it and hides it; then it goes, full of joy, he sells all his possessions and buys that field. The kingdom of heaven is also similar to a merchant who goes in search of precious pearls; found a pearl of great value, will, he sells all his possessions and buys it. Yet, the kingdom of heaven is like a net cast into the sea, which collects all kinds of fish. When it's full, the fishermen haul it ashore, they sit down, they collect the good fish in the baskets and throw away the bad ones. So it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the evil from the good and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. You have understood all these things?”. They answered: "Yes". And he said to them: “For this every scribe, become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven, it is similar to a householder who extracts new and old things from his treasure"".

The last parable is eschatological in tone and its location ultimately becomes important because it opens a window on how Jesus positioned himself in relation to the world. The fishing net elsewhere, for example in the last chapter of the fourth Gospel[2], it now symbolized the mission of the Church and the need for different traditions - in that case the synoptic and the Johannine one - to remain united because that was the intention of the Lord who had invited the disciples to fish[3]. In this circumstance the net that is pulled into the boat is a metaphor for the final judgment since it explicitly speaks of the "end of the world" or of history.

Allow me to make a small digression at this point which I hope does not exceed the limits of this commentary on the Sunday Gospel. It is now well established that Jesus' preaching was based on an eschatological vision. At least since Albert Schweitzer at the beginning of the 20th century in a famous book put an end to liberal exegesis and the first stage of research on the historical Jesus by stating that he could only be thought of except eschatologically[4].

In his preaching Jesus went beyond the thought of Jewish apocalypticism which predicted an imaginative future event. For him it is a reality that is already an object of experience, a current event in which the totality of history is recapitulated. the Kingdom of God as such, that is, the full unfolding of his redemptive sovereignty, it hasn't happened yet, but the time of the end has come and so, properly speaking, there is no longer historical development, but rather a recapitulation of the whole story called to trial. In Jesus and in his preaching it happens as a process of condensation whereby time becomes very short. “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is near: convert, and believe in the gospel" [MC 1, 14-15]. What is announced here is the time (the kairos) of definitive fulfillment, the promised coming of the Kingdom, the great turning point of the world inaugurated by Jesus whose final act is about to take place with his parousia. And the disciple lives in the condensed time that goes from the resurrection to the parousia. For this now, unlike Jewish eschatology, “faith in the gospel” is needed, that is, in Jesus Christ, in the Messiah, who is present as the one who came and who is coming[5].

Judgment on this world will certainly come at the end, says the gospel, but the world itself, in Jesus' preaching he entered the eschatological phase. Otherwise we would not understand the radical demands of Jesus addressed to the disciples and his fight with the evil one. Which is not a fight against the world, but against the one who deludes the world that he can be self-sufficient, without God and therefore to be able to find meaning only in himself and in his achievements. Against this powerful illusion, Jesus announces the Kingdom of God and at the same time heals and restores and even resurrects the dead.

I find this statement enlightening on the Christian that someone like Frederick Nietzsche could probably countersign:

"Because of this, for this nihilistic conscience of his, the presence of the Christian is unbearable, and doubly unbearable; because it denies meaning to the radical desire to be there and, so, denies the will to power, but at the same time he suffers within himself the passion of the world. He does not shy away from the world's aspiration for happiness, because the Kingdom does not exist other from this world; and therefore he wants and works for happiness in the profane order which continually passes away, but he knows that happiness cannot remain, since it itself aspires to pass away. It's the point where the heart breaks: in extreme happiness as in extreme pain. The Gospels give a sublime representation of this."[6].

All this preamble which I hope wasn't long-winded helps me to say that Jesus' parables are not bedtime stories at all, but they must be taken tremendously seriously. E, getting back on our tracks, allows us to understand the first two parables of today's Gospel. In both two men find something new - since in the words and deeds of Jesus the Kingdom is the "novelty” — and they sell everything they have to make it their own[7]. While the merchant is already a discoverer of beautiful pearls (hello daisykaloùs margaritas) and in this sense he is someone who is looking for something extraordinary and probably unique that is missing from his collection. The first, an unidentified man, instead, accidentally finds a treasure. Perhaps this is why his joy is also underlined, because he didn't expect the discovery. In both, what is central is the find what is finally enough for their life and which precludes any further search. It is at this point that they put everything they own up for sale to purchase what they have finally found. They must have understood the unique and definitive value of the Kingdom, what is worth risking everything for. There is no more time to wait than this or further hesitations, for this is the time of fulfillment.

The two characters of the Gospel thus they implement wise behavior. This is probably why the curators of the Liturgy compared Matthew's page to the story of the young Solomon who in the first reading this Sunday tries to obtain from God "A docile heart" [1Re 3,9], but in return he receives from Him an even more precious pearl, that of «a wise and intelligent heart: there was no one like you before you nor will there arise after you" and even much more in riches and glory [1Re 2, 12-13].

About the pearl, St. Augustine, acutely notices that the merchant was looking for more pearls, the plural, and in the end he finds the single pearl par excellence which is Christ, the Word in which everything is summed up:

"That man, who was looking for precious pearls, he finds one that is truly of great value and, sold everything he owned, the purchase. This guy, so, in seeking good men with whom to live profitably, Above all, he encounters one who is without any sin: the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Perhaps he too was looking for precepts, observing which he could behave well with men, and encountered love for others, in which alone, as the Apostle says, all the others are contained. In fact, do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness and every other commandment are the individual pearls that are summarized in this maxim: Love your neighbor as yourself. O, perhaps, it is a man who is looking for intelligible concepts and finds the one in whom all are contained, that is, the Word, which was in the beginning, he was with God and he was God: the luminous Word for the splendor of truth, stable because immutable in its eternity and in every respect similar to itself due to the beauty of divinity: that Word that those who manage to go beyond the covering of the flesh identify with God"[8].

Allow me to close this commentary on the Gospel of today's Sunday reporting an apologue by M. Buber on dreaming of seeking and ultimately finding. Because parables are never enough.

«To the young people who came to him for the first time, Rabbi Bunam used to tell the story of Rabbi Eisik, son of Rabbi Jekel of Krakow. After years and years of harsh poverty, which however had not shaken his trust in God, he received orders in a dream to go to Prague to look for treasure under the bridge that leads to the royal palace. When the dream repeated itself for the third time, Eisik set out and reached Prague on foot. But the bridge was guarded day and night by sentries and he did not have the courage to dig in the indicated place. However, he returned to the bridge every morning, wandering around it until the evening. Finally the captain of the guard, who had noticed his comings and goings, he approached him and asked him in a friendly way if he had lost something or if he was waiting for someone. Eisik told him the dream that had brought him there from his distant country. The captain burst out laughing: “And you, poor fellow, to follow a dream you came all this way on foot? Ah, ah, ah! Stay cool to trust dreams! Then I too would have had to set out to obey a dream and go to Krakow, in the house of a Jew, a certain Eisik, son of Jekel, to look for treasure under the stove! Eisik, son of Jekel, are you kidding? I can see myself going in and ransacking all the houses in a city where half the Jews are called Eisik and the other half Jekel.!”. And he laughed again. Eisik greeted him, he returned to his home and dug up the treasure with which he built the named synagogue “Reb Eisik School, son of Reb Jekel”. “Remember this story well - Rabbi Bunam added at the time - and understand the message it addresses to you: there is something that you cannot find anywhere in the world, yet there is a place where you can find it”»[9].

Happy Sunday everyone!

from the Hermitage, 30 July 2023



[1] The quadriform Gospel [cf.. God's word 18; Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., III, 11, 8: PG 7, 885)

[2] GV 21, 3.6.11

[3] «Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had bent over his chest at dinner... Peter therefore, as he saw it, he said to Jesus: “man, what will become of him?”. Jesus answered him: “If I want him to stay until I come, what does it matter to you? You follow me”» (GV 21, 20.22)

[4] Albert Schweitzer History of research into the life of Jesus, Paideia, Brescia 1986, pp. 744 ff.

[5] «Come Lord Jesus» (AP 22, 20)

[6] Gaeta G., The time of the end, Any, p. 96

[7] "We ', sell what you own, give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me" (Mt 19,21)

[8] Saint Aurelius Augustine, Seventeen questions on the Gospel according to Matthew, book one, PL 35

[9] Martin Buber, The path of man, Einaudi, 2023


San Giovanni all'Orfento. Abruzzo, Mount Maiella, it was a hermitage inhabited by Pietro da Morrone, called in 1294 to the Chair of Peter on which he ascended with the name of Celestine V (29 August – 13 December 1294).


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1 reply
  1. John65
    John65 says:

    Thanks for the beautiful article. I would only add that Buber's apologue can also be read as an invitation to look for the treasure in our home, that is, as the Gospel of John tells us “inside us”…

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