Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’ When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.Matthew 13:47-53
Today’s reading is one of those moments in the gospel narrative that we often skip over because its meaning isn’t that obvious – and certainly not in the way we are offered it today. Normally, yesterday’s reading and today’s are combined into one passage made up of three short parables. In that way we are almost encouraged to focus on the images of the ‘treasure’ and the ‘pearl of great value’ and gloss over the equally challenging words about the new and the old.
So many of us struggle with the idea of things that are ‘new’. During our months of lockdown almost every aspect of our lives has had to be re-invented and viewed through a different lens. We have been forced into embracing the new. As days pass, the challenge of the new grows stronger and increasingly irresistible. The country is ‘opening up’ after four months of almost total inactivity, and yet much of what we see around is different, it is new. Businesses, and churches, are now required to focus on their primary purpose. For the church this means we must focus on prayer and worship; there is no room in the ‘new’ way of things for any other sort of communal gathering, not even a post-worship cup of coffee. For the moment things are different, things are new. Today’s reading can help us through the challenges and confusions of these days, if we will let it.
The ‘new’ of which Jesus speaks is about himself. Jesus’ earthly ministry brought a new clarity and a new vision to our faith in God. Over recent weeks I have found myself constantly reflecting on the ways in which Jesus challenged the human constructs that had stifled lively and pro-active faith in God; human constructs that impose so many unnecessary constraints on the way people live out their daily lives. Jesus’s teaching and signs of power show us that a life of faith can be so much more exciting than that. But … Jesus also taught the value of God-given law, of the words of the prophets, of those traditions that keep us focused on God. Jesus honours both the new and the old.
Yes … we are living through strange times.
Yes … things look different, and things feel new.
But … we are being given the opportunity to re-focus our lives on the prayer and worship which should be the primary focus of every Christian life.
Let us rejoice and give thanks for that opportunity, and cling on to only that which enriches our prayer and worship so that others may see and taste the joy of God’s love in their lives.