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Saint Sharbel Makhlūf, Priest
Why do you speak to the crowd in parables? (Matthew 13:10)
Comedian Buddy Hackett used to quip, “My mother’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.” Today’s Gospel reading presents the same alternatives, but about something infinitely more important than food preferences. Will we take Jesus and his teaching or leave it?
By this point in Matthew’s Gospel, those who have been listening to Jesus are making choices. The “leavers” refuse to repent; some are even plotting his death (Matthew 11:20-24; 12:14). The “takers” are opening their hearts to Jesus and his message. Yet these disciples are confused about his teaching style. Why not speak more directly? Why use parables?
Jesus’ answer—“because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand” (Matthew 13:13)—highlights the deliberate rejection of the “leavers”; they have already blocked their ears and are now experiencing the consequences of this choice. Commenting on Jesus’ approach, St. John Chrysostom explains: “We ourselves do this all the time. When we see someone listening inattentively and can’t persuade him to listen at all, then all that remains is to be silent. If we continue, even his inattentiveness is aggravated. But for someone who tries to learn, we continue on and offer much.”
So is Jesus giving up on those who reject what he offers, like Mother Hackett telling her kids to “take it or leave it”? Not at all! Jesus wants everyone to receive the good news of the kingdom. This is, in fact, why he speaks in parables. These surprising, often puzzling comparisons are teaching tools that can jolt people and provoke some thinking and changing. A shepherd who abandons the whole flock to search for one stray? A harvest of a hundredfold, when a yield of seven and a half was normal? These surprising stories suggest fresh, new possibilities about what God and his kingdom are like. And they invite everyone to respond accordingly.
So come to Jesus’ table with a “take it” attitude, hungry for every word he offers. If you want to be nourished, “more will be given,” and you “will grow rich” in understanding (Matthew 13:12).
“Jesus, your word is always new. By your Spirit, help me to be a generous receiver of your grace!”
Jeremiah 2:1-3, 7-8, 12-13; Psalm 36:6-11
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