Some of you might know the name. Richard Feynman. He was one of the great scientists of the last century. Among other things, he created a graphical method of describing the interactions of sub-atomic particles. But he was also known as an excellent teacher. And you can see this by watching a video where he tried to answer an interviewer’s questions about how magnets work. He explains that what seem extraordinary in fact turns out to be reality at its most basic. What seems most basic turns out to rely on what the interviewer thinks is most weird. Our readings today are a bit like that. They describe reality at its most fundamental. They show how things really are. It is our job to learn to see things that way.
Our readings today approach creation from God’s side. They therefore give us an entry into the only accurate understanding of creation, namely, that of the creator. They are then a reminder, like last week, that when it comes to life, there is no other way but Jesus.
In Christ, we are given the very blueprint of creation. Jesus’s life, his teachings, his parables cannot be reduced to so-called “gospel values”. He is not a value that has to fight for our attention in the marketplace of ideas. Yes, there can be a moral lesson in there, but to settle there is to miss most of what is going on. Jesus is the Word through whom the universe comes to be and remains in being. What he tells us is how things are. Not how they might appear to be. They do not fit into a preconceived notion of reality. They set the table for reality.
With that in mind, our first reading is a passage that often comes up in the Church’s liturgy. It speaks to God’s creative power. How what God says happens. How God’s Word permeates the whole of creation. How God’s action is the very life of creation, a great dynamic of going out from God to gather up all and return into God’s life. This is what is really going on around us, the Mass.
And our gospel today is Jesus’s master parable. This is the parable of which Jesus says, if you don’t get this one, then you won’t get any of them. But I would like to look at the passage by way of another, that we had at one of the weekday Masses recently. It was the passage where some people bring a paralytic man to Jesus. The first thing Jesus sees is their faith. When God looks at creation, the first thing God looks for is faith.
When we look at the world, what strikes us first?
If we are having a good day, things might seem brighter. If we are having a bad day, then perhaps the opposite. If we have some artistic talent or a keen eye for detail, we might spot new patterns or colours or perhaps a moment worthy of recall. A friend of mine who is a talented artist took me around an exhibition once and I remember her saying of the artist, “He just saw things differently.”
If we have special skills or training, we might spot things that others don’t. I remember a lawyer once telling me that studying law changed the way you walk down a street. You see, for example all the complexities of commercial contracts, of road rules and building regulations, of criminal law and public morality.
In our gospel today, the parable describes the very reason for creation. The only reason anything exists at all is to become the seedbed for the Divine Word. What we see in the very first lines of the Bible, what we see in the mystery of Mary’s Annunciation, what Christ spells out for us today is this reality. The purpose of creation, its fullest reality, the only way in the end to see everything around us, is in terms of faith. Creation is supposed to be the rich soil of faith that welcomes, makes room for, and is fertilised by God. In the end, creation has no other purpose.
But faith as the pinnacle of creation is necessarily free. So, it cannot be forced. Not even by God. And so God comes in a way that is undoubtable, but still open. His teaching is clear but also disguised. We have to want it to find it. Hence the parables.
And did you hear what Jesus says about most people? We don’t want to know why we exist. We don’t want to know what we are made for. Because that would mean we have to change.
And Jesus lists all the ways, we can avoid faith. Ways that we all recognise all too easily. A lack of effort to understand. Or a certain superficiality when it comes to the most important things, manifest especially when things get difficult. Or a preference for wealth or distraction, an anxiety about secondary realities rather that real wisdom about what counts.
We all can do our own examination of conscience as to which is our pressure point. However, I would like to emphasise one: a lack of understanding. It is the one that Jesus starts with. I know when I got to the seminary how little I knew. Even now I am finding stuff I should have known years ago. However, perhaps this is the Cross of our time: a failure to know the basics, a failure of religious knowledge and so an inability to pass it on to others. Perhaps this might be something we focus on. Perhaps as parishes we might make a concerted effort to level up our knowledge. This is not simply to win at religious trivia, but in the belief that the more we open ourselves to God’s Word, the more God forms us, the happier we will be, and the better creation will be.
Let’s pray then for the wisdom to ask the right question and find the right answer. This is precisely how God waters creation, and turns us into rich soil.