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Evangelization 101 is harder than it sounds

A Reflection for Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

The disciples approached Jesus and said, “Why do you speak to the crowd in parables?” He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted … This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” (Mt 13:10-13)

I’ll admit that I thought it was going to be really easy to write this reflection. “Today’s Gospel is essentially Evangelization 101. Go out into the culture, but meet people where they’re at. Done.” It would take twenty minutes max, I thought.

But then I sat with that idea a bit more. Jesus makes a clear distinction here between his “disciples” and “the crowd.” Who is the crowd, though? To whom exactly does Jesus speak in parables?

And the answer is me. I’m the crowd. After all, Jesus speaks to us through the Bible, and it’s hard to get a word out of his mouth that isn’t part of some parable. I mean, really: the sower, the lost sheep, the mustard seed, the prodigal son, the workers in the vineyard. The list goes on and on and on.

And that’s the secret here. At least in my experience, I feel a lot more like the crowd than the disciples here. I have no clue what’s going on! What’s heaven like? I don’t know. How does the Trinity work? No clue. How exactly does bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ? Out of luck there, too.

Every last one of us lives in a world that has yet to even begin comprehending the vastness of God’s salvific love.

How could God allow all of this suffering in our lives?

I don’t know the answer to that one, either.

Here’s what I do know, though—I know that someday, we’ll have the answers to all of those questions and more. We’ll sit before the judgment throne (itself an allegory!), gaze into Jesus’ eyes and understand in an instant exactly what it all meant. We will no longer need the parables, the little shadows of penumbral understanding in which we live, breathe and die. We will look and we will see; we will hear and we will understand. That day will come, and it will hold many surprises.

But that day is not today. So until it comes, we ought to have humility. Every last one of us lives in a world that has yet to even begin comprehending the vastness of God’s salvific love. I’m reminded of a hymn I learned when I was younger: eye has not seen, ear has not heard / what God has ready for those who love him.”

So yes, today’s Gospel is Evangelization 101—knowing that you too must be evangelized.

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