"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Short Story Analysis: Where Love Is, There God Is Also by Leo Tolstoy

This is a Leo Tolstoy story written in 1885 after his religious conversion (which occurred sometime in the 1870s), and it most definitely reflects his new found faith. 

A quick summary of the story would be thus.  Martuin Avdyeitch, a shoemaker, falls into despair but rises out of his despair when he follows a friend’s advice to read the New Testament.  The more he read, the more engaged he became and in time had what might be called a religious conversion out of his despair.  One night while dozing he heard a voice that said He was coming the next day.  Martuin took that voice to be Christ, and so he awaited Him by having tea and food ready.  The next day on separate occasions, he came to the aid of needy people (an old man, a woman with child, and an old woman robbed by a street urchin) with hospitality.  Still no Christ arrived by the end of the day.  As he goes to bed he hears a voice asking if he recognized Him.  Upon inquiring, out of the shadows steps the old man, the woman and child, and the old lady and street urchin.  You can read the Wikipedia entry on this story here.  

You can read the entire story at Project Gutenberg, here.  

 There’s not all that much to analyze.  It’s a simple story.  The transitions of the story can be seen with the transitions in Martuin’s internal state.  (1) Despair, which is further developed by the death of Martuin’s remaining child.  (2) Desire to learn Christ’s message, inspired by an old man paying Martuin a visit, and developed by Martuin unable to put down the Gospels.  (3) Joyful, as a result of the change in Martuin’s life from the gospel message.  This joyful state leads Martuin to compassionately aid the three needy people passing by his shop.  (4) Surprise with the epiphany that those needy people were all Christ, and that He had paid him a visit.

Some observations. 

Martuin was already a good man before his last child died, and he was already on a path toward embracing religion.

Avdyeitch had plenty to do, because he was a faithful workman, used good material, did not make exorbitant charges, and kept his word. If it was possible for him to finish an order by a certain time, he would accept it; otherwise, he would not deceive you,—he would tell you so beforehand. And all knew Avdyeitch, and he was never out of work.

Avdyeitch had always been a good man; but as he grew old, he began to think more about his soul, and get nearer to God. Martuin's wife had died when he was still living with his master. His wife left him a boy three years old. None of their other children had lived. All the eldest had died in childhood. Martuin at first intended to send his little son to his sister in the village, but afterward he felt sorry for him; he thought to himself:—

“It will be hard for my Kapitoshka to live in a strange family. I shall keep him with me.”

And Avdyeitch left his master, and went into lodgings with his little son.  But God gave Avdyeitch no luck with his children. As Kapitoshka grew older, he began to help his father, and would have been a delight to him, but a sickness fell on him, he went to bed, suffered a week, and died. Martuin buried his son, and fell into despair.

A faithful workman who didn’t deceive people in search of God, Martuin may well have been on a path to religiosity.  If hospitality is one of the themes, we see it here with deciding not send off his son.  And Martuin buys that shop on account of keeping his son.  The love for his son and its subsequent hospitality we see sets up the conditions for the main part of the story.

The old man who comes to visit Martuin is also another example of hospitality.  There seems to be a lot of old people in this story.  That old man is given some mysterious details.  He comes from Troïtsa, a monastery, so he’s a religious man.  He had been “wandering about” for seven years.  Is this another Christ figure?  I would consider it so.

I love the gradual change in Martuin as he reads the Gospels culminating with his conversion. 

And the more he read, the clearer he understood what God wanted of him, and how one should live for God; and his heart kept growing easier and easier. Formerly, when he lay down to sleep, he used to sigh and groan, and always thought of his Kapitoshka; and now his only exclamation was:—

“Glory to Thee! glory to Thee, Lord! Thy will be done.”

And from that time Avdyeitch's whole life was changed. In other days he, too, used to drop into a public-house as a holiday amusement, to drink a cup of tea; and he was not averse to a little brandy, either. He would take a drink with some acquaintance, and leave the saloon, not intoxicated, exactly, yet in a happy frame of mind, and inclined to talk nonsense, and shout, and use abusive language at a person. Now he left off that sort of thing. His life became quiet and joyful. In the morning he would sit down to work, finish his allotted task, then take the little lamp from the hook, put it on the table, get his book from the shelf, open it, and sit down to read. And the more he read, the more he understood, and the brighter and happier it grew in his heart.

Martuin’s conversion seems to parallel Tolstoy, who he too fell into despair but was pulled out of it by his understanding of Christ.  Even Martuin now sitting and working at his craft gives me an image of Tolstoy sitting and writing.

I would say that concludes the first half of the story.  The second half of the story is Martuin putting his new found faith into action.  We see Martuin feeling compassion for the three separate needy people.  Each of the needy people seem to have their personal weaknesses.  Martuin provides hospitality by giving them tea and food, and in the case of the old woman and the urchin serves as a peacemaker.  The three episodes read like a folk tale. In each episode Martuin applies Christian principles to bring about harmony.  Each person Martuin helps gives him a blessing in some way.  As the title of the story stipulates, where love is, Christ is there too.

Some other thoughts.  Is the fact that Tolstoy makes him a shoemaker or shoe repairer have any significance?  Taking care of other people’s feet suggests a humility.  It recalls Christ washing the apostle’s feet or the sinful woman washing Jesus feet with her tears.  Martuin knowing the shoes of all the people in town seems to suggest a humble servant.

Perhaps the most striking detail in this story is how Martuin’s shop is below ground and that he is looking upward out of the window to the street.  Is he looking heavenward?  Does it emphasize humility again?  Does it suggest death, as in being buried?  Perhaps all, perhaps none.  I’m not sure.  It’s a wonderful detail though.

###

Excerpts from our discussion at Goodreads Catholic Thought Book Club.

Kerstin commented:
I've been thinking if I have ever seen a "basement" shop here in the US, where you have to go down a few steps from street level to enter. And I don't recall.

To me this detail invokes a sense of being sheltered, a place to retreat, almost a burrow. You only exit when necessary. Martuin, for the most part, doesn't leave. In this sheltered place is where his battered heart seeks refuge. He doesn't see beyond his own pain. Then Christ generates a rebirth. First very subtly by giving him the desire to read the Gospels, and his first venture into the outside world is to purchase a New Testament. And like a seed ready to germinate he drinks in the living waters of the Word and he opens up. Instead of only noting inanimate boots belonging to a person passing by his window he actually looks further, sees and recognizes their faces. He grows beyond himself and sees their struggles and is no longer imprisoned by his own. He is now ready to bring Christ to the people around him. He rejoins the community.

My Reply:
I have seen them here in NYC.
Interesting thought. It does suggest rebirth, perhaps resurrection. I had not thought of that.

Gerri Commented:
I definitely sense a theme of rebirth in the story. But, also, I wondered if Christ's message would have reached someone who wasn't as good a man as Martuin. His foundation is strong, it isn't on sand. And I'm trying to determine the significance of the story's emphasis on shoes, feet, walking, etc. Perhaps metaphors for life's journey? Martuin's limited line of sight also stands out to me. When he looks out that window, he can only see feet/shoes. He has to go out of his way to bend and look up enough to see the passerby's face or to see what's going on in the street. It's only when he makes that effort that he begins to see the Christ-figures that are visiting him.

My Reply:
Yes, Gerri that limited line of sight caught me eye too. I like the way you stated it. Perhaps that's it in itself: limitation of sight. And I like the thought of being buried below ground too.

Lawanda remembered hearing a Johnny Cash song having a very similar story line.  And she found the song, “The Christmas Guest.” 



Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Faith Filled Friday: The Prayer of the Laborer


I love the monthly magazine, Magnificat, which offers daily devotionals. I try to read every day's devotional at some point, but I admit I'm always behind.

Saturday, December 7th, was St. Ambrose's feast day and in the devotional they had a prayer he wrote, titled "The Prayer of the Laborer." Magnificat presents the prayer in the form of a poem, but I don't know if that is how St. Ambrose originally wrote it or the translator or the editors. But it was very inspirational. I present it here:

The Prayer of the Laborer
by Saint Ambrose

God, creator of all things
and ruler of the heavens, fitting
the day with beauteous light
and the night with grace of sleep:
May rest restore our slackened limbs
to the exercise of toil,
lighten our wearied minds,
and relieve our anxious preoccupations.
Now the day is over and night has begun,
we, your devotees, sing our hymn,
offering thanks and begging
that you would help us in our sinfulness.
May the depths of our hearts magnify you,
may our harmonious voices sound you,
may our chaste affections love you,,
may our sober minds adore you.
Thus, when the deep gloom of night
closes in upon the day,
our faith may not know darkness
and the night may shine with faith.
Do not permit our minds to slumber;
it is sinfulness that knows slumber.
May faith, which refreshes the chaste,
temper sleep’s embrace.
When the depths of our hearts have been stripped of unclean thoughts,
let them dream of you,
nor let worry, the stratagem of the envious foe,
disturb us as we rest.
We beseech Christ and the Father,
and the spirit of Christ and the Father,
who are one and omnipotent.
O Trinity, assist us who pray to you!

How lovely, especially after a tiring day at work.  It is a blessing to recite as you fall into that “grace of sleep.” 



Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Music Tuesday: The Hillbilly Thomist

I haven’t had a Music Tuesday in quite a while.  I’ve wanted to highlight this album ever since I got it, which was shortly after it came out two years ago.  The group is called The Hillbilly Thomists, and the album—their only album to date—is named after the band.  It’s a set of traditional “roots” music performed in a Bluegrass style.  What is remarkable about this band is they are Dominican (as in the Order of Preachers) religious men, brothers and priests presumably who play in their spare time. 

Here’s “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” possibly their only crafted music video.




That is just fantastic.  The band’s name comes from the music they play (hillbilly) coupled with the great saint of the Dominicans, St. Thomas Aquinas.  They explain where they came up with the name in this little clip. 




The Hillbilly Thomists have been featured in a number of Catholic media.  Dominicana, the journal of the Dominican student brothers of the St. Joseph Province of the Order of Preachers tells how the group went from sacred music they went to roots music.    

After four albums of sacred choral music, the Dominican brothers have tuned their banjos and turned their attention to Americana folk and bluegrass. Their hope: to spread the joy of the gospel through the joy of music.

And

Traditional bluegrass music is playful and energetic; along with American folk music, it often contains explicitly theological themes: belief in Christ, the goodness of life, the pain of unrequited love, the finality of death, and hope in eternal life. It is a traditional southern form of testimony to the presence of grace in the human heart.

Brad Minor at The Catholic Thing espouses the countercultural appeal of the brothers.  

So enter these Dominican friars, not one of whom would likely make it through a first audition on American Idol, which is what makes Hillbilly Thomists so satisfying.

There are mostly standards here, including “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” “Amazing Grace,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” and the aforementioned “Angel Band.”

Two priests, eight brothers, and twelve songs in all.

Back to more songs.  Here’s one of my favorites, “To Canaan’s Land.”




And finally, let me give you my absolute favorite on the album, “What Wondrous Love is This.”




If you love American folk music and if you’re Christian, I really think you would love this album.  Victor #2, who comments here every so often I think would love this album.  It would make a great Christmas gift for someone.  You can purchase it from the Hillbilly Thomists’ website.  (Last time I checked the CD there was cheaper than at Amazon.) Proceeds go toward supporting the Dominican friars.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Gospel of Matthew, Part 3

You can read Part 1 here.  
Part 2, here.  

The fourth discourse in Matthew comprises chapter eighteen.  This is the discourse on the nature of community, and so we see each section a theme in some way that comments on the way elements of the community are supposed to relate to each other.  The discourse seems to divide into five parts.  Here’s how I divide it.

1. The relationship between man and heaven.
2. The relationship between man and sin.
3. The Parable of the Lost Sheep
4. How to deal with an unrepentant sinner.
5. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

Let me put out some thoughts on each of these.  The image of a child returns in that first part of the discourse when Jesus is asked who in heaven is the greatest.  I love the rhythmic motifs that Matthew as writer forms in his Gospel.  The image of a child appears rhythmically through Matthew: Jesus as infant, the slaughter of the innocents, the simile of the apostles as little ones, and now here.  Here Christ physically takes a child and places him as the center of attention.  As I mentioned before, the child doesn’t so much symbolize innocence, as I’ve always thought, but stands for the lowest and least powerful.

On the second part of the discourse, I’ve always focused on either the beginning (causing a child to sin) or the end (cutting off a limb or plucking out an eye) but for some reason this time I focused on the middle: “Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” (7). I must have glossed over that line every single time before.  Has anyone really ever thought about that verse before?  Woe means grief or distress or affliction.  The first sentence is clear: grief to the world because of things that cause sin.  Interesting that the woe comes not from the sin itself but from what causes sin.  The second sentence is startling and perhaps unexpected for me: “Such things must come,” meaning those that cause sin must come.  It sounds like it’s part of nature, the condition of earthly life.  Of course we know this.  God lets sin happen, so it is part of nature.  But to come from Christ’s mouth seems surprising to me.  When Christ says, woe to the one who causes sin my mind jumps to the serpent in the Garden and Judas at the Passion events.

I am never sure when Jesus is using exaggeration, but clearly in saying to cut ones hand off and pluck one’s eye out to prevent sin, that is over the top exaggeration.  Even I can see that one.  But can everyone?  The church father Origen took those words very literally and castrated himself to prevent sins of impurity. 

I love the Parable of the Lost Sheep.  What is the relationship in question here?  Between Christ and man or between a leader and his underlings?  I guess when one considers the entire sermon to be on community, then one has to extend the meaning to beyond just Christ.  But I don’t find that leadership element satisfactory, mainly because the unrealistic element in this parable is that no shepherd worth his salt would abandon the ninety-nine sheep to go find one stray.  Would a leader, say a leader of soldiers, risk the bulk of his troops for one stray soldier?  I don’t think so.  This parable only makes sense to me when it’s God searching for a lost soul.

The process of rebuking a sinner is rather straightforward.  I’ve never seen it in practice.  Has anyone? 

There’s a verse in there I never really noticed before, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (18).  Those are the same words He says to Peter in chapter 16.  Here He is addressing all the apostles, and so they too have the authority to bind (i.e. forbid) and loose (i.e. allow).  The difference is that Peter is the rock on which the church is built and Peter is given the keys; that is primacy.

And then finally the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant is really quite powerful.  It’s one of my favorite of the parables.  The preface to the parable starts with Peter asking Christ how many times a person should forgive another.  Seven times, Peter generously assumes.  Christ says seventy times seven, which is an overwhelming number.  In the parable we have one servant who is forgiven a debt of ten thousand talents, while the other owes the previous servant a hundred denarii.  From what I gathered, a hundred denarii was about three or four month’s wages while one talent was about 20 years wages.  So the one with ten thousand talents is like a billionaire and the one with hundred denarii is like a manual laborer living day to day.  One can see the disparity there but just like seventy times seven overwhelms Peter’s seven, the ten thousand overwhelms the hundred denarii.  There is a sort of symmetry in the numbers.

Now here’s the strange element that ends the Unforgiving Servant Parable.  That unforgiving servant at the end is sent off to be tortured.  Christ then ends with, so will God do to you if you don’t have mercy.  So is God sending souls off to be tortured or is that another exaggeration to make a point? As I said, I can’t always tell when to consider Christ exaggerating and when not.

###

The fifth and final discourse—the discourse on the end of times—is delineated in chapters 24 and 25.  Here’s how I see the structure of this discourse. 

1. Prediction of the destruction of the temple & collapse of civil order.
2. The prediction of false prophets.
3. The coming of the Son of Man.
4. The eternal endurance of Christ’s words.
5. The mystery of the end of time.
6. The Parable of the Faithful Servant.
7. The Parable of the Ten Virgins.
8. The Parable of the Talents.
9. The Parable of the Sheep and Goats.

The first six parts comprise chapter 24, and chapter 25 is made up of the three great parables which are so memorable. 

Just like the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is sitting (24:3) as he delivers this sermon.  Again I don’t have that image of Him sitting as He delivers these sermons.  Could it also be that I associate this with a priest’s homily?

Here Jesus forewarns the apostles about their persecutions as He did in the Sermon on the Mount: “Then they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name” (24:9). 

The description of the end of times sounds like it’s pretty horrendous.  Does anyone know why?  I know that’s common for apocalyptic literature, but coming from Christ’s mouth makes it a true forecasting of the future.  If we’re working toward creating the kingdom of God, why does it all collapse into degeneration? 

And then with the coming of the Son of Man (return of Christ) He comes to gather “the elect.”  The note at the bottom of the NAB says that Matthew is describing the destruction of the temple in 66 AD.  This is where I have a problem with modern scholars.  If that is the case, then Christ is not predicting anything.  It already happened.  Now how could that be if “the Son of Man” did not come?  Even more important perhaps, is the prediction about the end of times or the destruction of the temple?  Is the destruction of the temple a metaphor for the end of times?  Why does Jesus speak about “this generation” living through all this when He appears to be speaking about the distant future?  I don’t have answers to any of this, but you can see it’s rather complicated.  Events are intertwined and conflated.  If you believe Matthew through Mark wrote the Gospels post temple destruction, then the meaning of this would be different than if Matthew or Mark wrote it prior. 

I love the line, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  Christ as the Word is eternal, so eternal that it will outlast heaven itself.  That’s obviously an exaggeration given that heaven cannot pass away.

I never noticed it before, but Christ compares the end of times with the flood of Noah (24:37-39).  I also never noticed these lines either until now.

Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left.  Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. (40-42)

People will be at work, men in the field and women at the mill, and some will be saved and some not.  The caution to stay awake foreshadows how the apostles fall asleep while Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

The Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servants is allegorical.  While the master is away, you better be a faithful servant or there will be consequences if you are not.  That unfaithful servant will be punished so that he will be gnashing his teeth.  Matthew seems to like that image of grinding or gnashing of teeth.  It comes up frequently and I don’t think the other evangelists use it. 

The Gospel of Matthew is for me an endearing gospel because of the Sermon on the Mount and the three great parables of chapter 25.  Is it possible to not love those three great parables?  I have a theory on the three parables.  It seems to me they follow the virtues of hope, faith, and charity. 

The wise virgins of the first parable keep oil in their lamps while the foolish virgins don’t.  The wise virgins are prepared, and so they have had hope immediate in their minds.  The foolish virgins aren’t necessarily hopeless, but they don’t keep prepared, so their hope is distant, not presently conscious.  Does that make sense?  Notice though all ten fall asleep, and so all ten actually fail Christ’s command to “stay awake.”  But the wise account for the impossibility of always staying awake.  They hope the bridegroom will come and so prepare for it.

The servants of the second parable provide examples of putting faith into action.  Notice all three have faith, but only the first two put their faith into action.  Point this out to the Protestants who claim it’s “faith alone.”  The first two go out and use the talents to multiply talents.  The kingdom is broadened by putting talents into action.  I may have said this earlier, a talent was roughly twenty years income, so even the third servant who only received one talent received a richly amount. The first two are lauded: “‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’”  The third servant is called “wicked and slothful” and thrown into “the outer darkness” where he too will be “gnashing” his teeth.  Seems kind of harsh but remember a parable is not a reflection of reality but a glimpse into a truth.

The third parable clearly I think explicates charity.  This is the parable which convicts me every time, so much so that I actually feel anxiety when I read it. 

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’  Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’  He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ (25:41-43)

Am I one of the sheep or am I one of the goats?  Or perhaps in between, and where does that leave me?  Certainly I give money to charity.  But is that what Christ really wants of us?  Or does He want a hands on application to the needy?  I think this parable is the most powerful of all the parables.


Notice too that the goats, who go off into eternal punishment, didn’t do anything overtly evil.  Their sins were sins of omission, what they failed to do, as we pray in the Confiteor at Mass.  Whenever I get into a debate with a Protestant over faith alone, this is what I cite, though one could cite a number of Jesus’ teachings.  It’s so clear here.  The goats failed to do a work of mercy.  It is not faith alone.  You have to put faith into action.  As St. Paul writes of the virtues in 1 Cor 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  

Monday, December 2, 2019

Matthew Monday: Diary of a Wimpy Kid


At this age, so far, Matthew doesn’t like to read.  He reads, but really you have to force him.  We’re reading the Narnia series together, but it’s like pulling teeth to get him to sit with me.


There is one book series for his age that he just loves.  It’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid by written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney.  He adores the concept, the characters, and the story lines.  According to the Wikipedia entry, 200 million books of the set have been sold. They have even made a movie.  I’m not sure if it follows one of the books or it’s just a new story line with the same characters.
 
If you’re not familiar, I’m not sure how to describe it.  It’s like one of those summer vacation movies.  It follows a kid in middle school, Greg Heffley, through his adventures and his relationships with his family and his school friends.  Things usually turn out all wrong.  Greg, as narrator, recounts his misadventures in the form of a diary.  Greg Heffley even has a Wikipedia entry.  This is how it describes him:

Greg Heffley is mischievous, lazy, paranoid, arrogant, and dishonest. He is known to become jealous easily. He also tends to be a poor friend, something even he agrees with. He doesn't like taking the blame for negative events, and attempts to twist any situation he can in his favor, so that he may go up his "popularity ladder." Despite all of these negative traits, he has displayed a kinder side. Throughout the series, Greg's schemes to acquire money and popularity always backfire. He also enjoys playing video games.

So it’s not exactly a story line that is ennobling.  He’s a little cynical and so are the book’s themes.  In that respect I’m not exactly thrilled with it.  I have read one of the books with Matthew, and perhaps it is in good fun, and perhaps cynical is too harsh a description. 


Matthew has read the entire series, all fourteen books.  So I can’t complain.  At least he’s reading.  He’s had books pre-ordered for a couple of years now (I think Kinney puts out one a year) and as soon as they come in it’s read within a day or two. 

So Matthew decided to stack the series, in numerical order of course, and have me take some pictures. 







And here’s Matthew with his beloved set.




When I was his age I was infatuated with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  It just shows you where society has gone. 




Friday, November 29, 2019

Gospel of Matthew, Part 2

Comment #5:
As the introduction in the NAB mentions, Matthew’s Gospel is structured around five discourses that Jesus says. A discourse is a fancy way of saying a sermon. We discussed the Sermon on the Mount. That was the first. Chapter ten comprises the second discourse. It is sometimes identified as the Discourse on the Apostle’s Missions.

Some striking things in that discourse. Jesus instructs them to not “go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town” (Matt 10:5). Their mission is to preach to “the lost sheep of Israel” (6). The Gospel of Luke I think had a more international outlook. Matthew is much more concerned with the Jewish people.

Verse seven (“As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”) is the mission, and I believe it is the same in all the Gospels, though I’m not sure if it’s explicitly stated in John. And does is the kingdom of heaven comprise of? For Matthew: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons” (8). Now this is supposed to be all our missions, though my skill at raising the dead is a bit lacking.

The first half of the discourse considers the mission. The second half considers the reactions the apostles will have to face.

Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.
But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues,
and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. (16-18)

There seems to be a disconnect for me between the first and the second half of the discourse. If the mission is to cure the sick and the like, why would they be persecuted? Who would persecute anyone that is cleaning lepers and chasing out demons? Now is Jesus predicting his own persecution? Everything He mentions is what will happen to Him.

So why would anyone want to go through these persecutions? In the Sermon on the Mount discourse, people were “blessed” by God if you followed Christ. In this discourse you will tortured. Why would anyone want to do this? Christ tells us: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (39). And He further explains it with “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man’s reward” (41). While it’s not spelled out here, that reward will be salvation.

But then the last verse again seems disconnected from something. “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward” (42). I don’t understand the context. Does anyone?

Kerstin Replied:
Heavenly reward and human reaction, that's the distinction. In other words, following Christ will earn you eternal reward, but don't expect worldly humans to approve.

My Reply:
Yes, but how this "little one" suddenly come into the picture? And why cold water? I understand the reward but the child and water seems to connect to something that is missing. It confuses me.

Kerstin Reply:
10:42 these little ones: i.e., the apostles. They must rely on the hospitality of others for daily necessities during their mission (10:9 - 11). Service rendered to them is service to Jesus himself (10:40; 25:34 - 36). Children are elsewhere used as examples in Jesus' teaching on the faith in 18: 1 - 4 and 19: 13 - 15).

Oh, I forgot the verse is translated a little differently:

Mt 10:42: "And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward."

My Reply:
I never knew that. I'm actually shocked. I took "little ones" for children. OK, that makes sense. Thanks Kerstin.

PS, that is a strange phrase for apostles. Did anyone know this on their own?

Kerstin Reply:
No, LOL! I wonder though, if it is some kind of endearment.

My Reply:
In searching around, I think it means lowly. Children were considered the lowest on a ladder of hierarchy. They essentially had no power or wealth. If that is so, I think a better translation in today's diction would be, "these lowly ones..."

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Comment #6:
Chapter 13 comprises the third discourse in Matthew’s Gospel, this on the nature of parables.  It’s a very active chapter.  By my count there are fourteen sections to the chapter of a chapter of 58 verses.  I’m amazed at how compressed each section is, averaging a little over four verses per section.  Here’s how I see the chapter divided.

1. Introductory stage directions.
2. The Parable of the Sower.
3. Why He speaks in parables.
4. The privilege granted to disciples.
5. The explanation of the Parable of the Sower
6. The Parable of the Weeds and Wheat.
7. The Parable of the Mustard Seed.
9. The Parable of the Yeast.
10. The fulfillment of prophesy in parables.
11. The explanation of the Weeds and Wheat.
12. Four parables on the nature of heaven.
13. Jesus concludes his discourse.
14. Jesus is rejected in His home town.

Jesus here too as in the Sermon on the Mount sits as He delivers His discourse.  Interestingly here He sits twice, first by the sea and then in a boat.  I imagine the boat is docked or grounded and He uses the boat as a sort of pulpit while the large crowd gathers up to Him.

The discourse alternates between a parable and an explanation, either explanation of a parable or an explanation of why He speaks in parables.  We always speak about how vivid a parable is or how memorable because it’s in story form, but that doesn’t seem to be the reason.  Jesus explains that it has been prophesied in Isaiah that those converted will understand and those not will not (13-15). 

The simplest of parables are nothing more than a simile.  “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast” (33) or “like a buried treasure” (44).  One step up in parable complexity from a simile is an allegory.  The Parable of the Weeds and Wheat is an example.  A parable that is a straight allegory.  The weeds represent the damned and the wheat represent the saved.  On earth the two are intermixed but in heaven they will be sorted out. 

Still another step in complexity from an allegory is a story that seems to alter reality or dislocates the focus.  The parable of the sower is such a complex parable.  For instance there are two dislocations in focus.  At first you think the story is about the sower, and then you think the story is about the seeds, but in fact it’s about the soil.  Could we set up an allegorical equation?  The sower would be a preacher, the seeds are the Word, and the soil would be general population.  In some the seed (the Word) will grow and some not.  The story also alters reality, pushing the conceit to a contortion of sorts.  In this case we could ask, why would a sower of seeds randomly spread seeds about in unknown soils?  A farmer would never do that.  If anything one prepares the soil or even grows seeds in a seedling pack with perfect soil.  The twist in these complex parables are enough to make them startling, mysterious, and perhaps even impenetrable.  These fulfill Isaiah’s prophesy. 

But even the simple similes are in a way dislocating as a means of communicating.  I count about eight parables in chapter thirteen, and they are in one way or another about the nature of heaven.  Now if I were to describe the nature of an island in the south pacific, which could be as close to heaven as we might imagine, I would tell you about the ideal temperature, the pleasing breeze, the fresh sea air, the wonderful trees, and such.  You would get some sort of an idea.  But in these eight parables or so, I don’t see any real sense of what heaven is like.  It’s a pearl, it’s yeast, the weeds won’t exist, it’s like a fishing net.  Frankly I don’t have a clue what heaven is like.  And yet when Jesus asks them do they understand, they say yes.

“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.”  (51-52)

Do they really understand?  I think they’re just “yessing” Him as one does a teacher you don’t want to disappoint.  And for good measure, Jesus gives them one last parable.  A scribe (which is a teacher) who has been instructed on heaven who as allegory teaches the new (Christ’s Word) and the old (Torah) is compared to “the head of a household.”  How is that?

Irene Replied:
I don't believe that these parables are about heaven, but about the Kingdom of God which Matthew calls the Kingdom of Heaven because it is impermissible to use the name of God for his Jewish readers. The Kingdom of God/Heaven is unfolding among us here on earth. It is not simply a future reality in another realm. Reading these parables that way makes them more accessible for me.

My Reply:
Irene’s comment sent me on a wonderful search for the distinctions between the “Kingdom of God” and the Kingdom of Heaven.”  It never dawn on me that Christ was referring to the earthly kingdom here, the kingdom we are supposed to establish.  I found those that support Irene’s position, but there were others that disagreed. 

For me I don’t know.  Irene’s point is well taken and fits every single parable except the one with fish and nets.  Here’s that entire parable:

Again, 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. (47-50)

Clearly there Christ is speaking about a time of judgement, which would be in the afterlife. 

But then the Parable of the Weeds and Wheat actually makes most sense using Irene’s reading.  While yes the harvest is at a judgement time, and therefore in celestial heaven, the sowing occurs prior, and would seemingly only make sense at an earthly time. 

The other parables can go either way.

The one thing that undermines Irene’s point is that according to Wikipedia entry “Kingdom of heaven (Gospel of Matthew)” a certain Robert Foster is quoted as claiming that Matthew uses “kingdom of God” and “God” in several places, so why would he be adverse here?  Here’s quote in Wikipedia:

Robert Foster rejects this view. He finds the standard explanation hard to believe as Matthew uses the word "God" many other times and even uses the phrase "kingdom of God" four times. Foster argues that, to Matthew, the two concepts were different. For Foster, the word "heaven" had an important role in Matthew's theology and links the phrase especially to "Father in heaven," which Matthew frequently uses to refer to God. Foster argues that the "kingdom of God" represents the earthly domain that Jesus' opponents such as Pharisees thought they resided in, while the "kingdom of heaven" represents the truer spiritual domain of Jesus and his disciples.

I tried to follow the link to Foster’s essay but it was not open to the public.  I’m just going to remain neutral on this.  I can see both being correct.  Perhaps Irene can offer an opinion on why Matthew would use “God” elsewhere but not here.  Either way, I want to thank Irene for enlightening me on this. 

Frances’ Reply:
In regard to the term Kingdom of God (please see Irene's comment in Message 30), I want to refer to the remarks of two scholars: Brant Pitre and the Anglican theologian N.T. Wright (who comes to us with excellent credentials, recommended by Bishop Robert Barron).

In The Case for Jesus, Pitre writes: "If there's anything Jesus loves to talk about in the Gospels, it is the coming of the kingdom of God -- or, in Matthew's Gospel -- the kingdom of heaven.

"Now, the question is: What does Jesus mean when he refers to the kingdom of God? And what does he mean when he says that it is 'at hand?' He seems to assume that his Jewish audience will understand what he's talking about. Today, many people think that the kingdom of God is another way of talking about 'life after death.' And while it's certainly true that the kingdom of God is tied to eternal life, there's more going on here. The very fact that Jesus can talk about the kingdom as 'coming' makes clear that he can't simply referring to what happens after a person dies. So what does he mean when he speaks of the time being fulfilled and the coming of the kingdom being 'at hand?'

"In this case the key to unlocking the meaning of Jesus' otherwise mysterious words can be found by going back to the Old Testament." (Brant Pitre, The Case for Jesus, pp. 104-105)

Now, I'm switching to N.T. Wright, quoting from his book The Day the Revolution Began:

"Among the things that Matthew is saying in his Gospel, it seems clear that he is highlighting the point that the kingdom agenda set out in chapter 5 is not simply an outline for a bracing ethic for Jesus's followers to attempt; it is the dramatic outline of Jesus's own vocation. . . The long story of Israel, sketched by Matthew in terms of the genealogy from Abraham to David, through the exile, to the Messiah, has come to its fulfillment. . . He would stand there unresisting as people slapped and mocked him. He would be compelled to carry his burden to Golgotha. He would find his clothes stripped from him and divided up. . .

My Reply:
It just struck me from today's Mass readings (Nov. 24, 2019), that the good thief on the cross tells Jesus, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." So clearly he is referring to the kingdom of heaven there. In front of Pilate, Jesus says "my kingdom is not of this world." So where is the kingdom of God? How do those two references to a kingdom that is outside the earth fit with the references from Matthew chapter 13? If the kingdom of God is at hand, where is it?

Frances’ Reply:
Manny, would this help? I’m going to quote from two completely unrelated sources. First, from N.T.Wright:

“For Jesus, the kingdom was coming not in a single move, but in stages, of which his own public career was one, his death and resurrection another, and a still future consummation another. Note that kingdom of heaven is Matthew’s preferred form for the same phrase, following a regular Jewish practice of saying heaven rather than God. It does not refer to a place, but to the fact of God’s becoming king in and through Jesus and his achievement.”

My second reference is from a scholar we don’t ordinarily turn to, but a good one, the late Mircea Eliade who was a distinguished professor of religious studies at the University of Chicago. His History of Religious Ideas was a classic when I was working on my master’s in theology. Here is what Eliade said about the term “kingdom of God”:
“The kingdom of God has already been inaugurated; it is not automatically universally obvious, just as the Messiah, incarnated in the historic personage of Jesus, was not obvious to the majority of Jews — and the divinity of Christ still is not so for nonbelievers. In short, there is here the same dialectical progression that is well known in the history of religions: the epiphany of the sacred in a profane object is at the same time a camouflage: for the sacred is not obvious to all those who approach the object in which it has manifested itself. This time the sacred — the kingdom of God — manifested itself in a human community that was historically circumscribed: the Church.” (Mircea Eliade, A history of Religious Ideas, Volume 2, University of Chicago Press. 1982)…

My Reply:
Yes Frances it really helps. All excellent quotes. Apparently Wright agrees with Irene on Matthew's use of the Kingdom of heaven as really referring to the kingdom of God. However, wouldn't it be more precise to say instead of "the kingdom came" with Christ that the kingdom was started with His coming? At least that's what I take from the first NT Wright quote you provided. It wasn't complete. There's more to come.

Madeleine’s Reply:
My take on the Kingdom is from the prayer Jesus gave us: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven..." We become members of the Kingdom by submitting to God's will. " The first phrase can mean the "Kingdom to come" or, keeping in mind that we just celebrated Christ's kingship once again on this earth, wherever there is a gathering of saintly believers, do we not have a piece of God's kingdom available to us now?


Irene’s Reply:
Manny, I can't not think of the 4 places in Matthew's Gospel where he uses "Kingdom of God", so I can't address your question. Maybe as we read through this Gospel we will discover them. I have not heard of the author cited by your wikapedia article. As to your question about the parables that clearly point to a final judgment, I don't think that the kingdom is either earthly or heavenly, either present or future. I understand it to be both. The Kingdom of God/Heaven is wherever God's will is reigning surpreme. Obviously, that is in Heaven. But, it has also been enaugerated on earth and is unfolding through the Church, through Christ's disciples. A parable about final judgment or about its miraculous growth, are equally appropriate, for all is part of the Kingdom.

My Reply:
Irene, that's absolutely brilliant. But of course. It is both! Why didn't I think of that!

My Reply:

Irene I found two. See chapter 19:23-24. Christ uses both, kingdom of heaven and kingdom of God within two verses. The other place is chapter 21:43.