It’s clear from our four gospels that one of the original things which most attracted people to the faith of Jesus was the element of surprise.
That in itself isn’t surprising. Jesus’ basic stump speech revolved around proclaiming the presence of God’s kingdom in our daily lives. He was convinced no matter who we were, where we were, or what we were doing, that God was working effectively in everyone and everything we encountered. That insight was powerful enough to force him eventually to shutter his Capernaum carpenter shop and embark on an itinerant preaching ministry, going town to town, synagogue to synagogue inviting others to reach that same level of faith.
That insight also led him to couch much of his proclamation about God’s kingdom in parables; in a form of speech which, instead of adding new information to a person’s store of knowledge, forced his listeners to change the way they processed knowledge itself. His goal was to retool the brains of his followers, encouraging them to look at people and things in a brand new way. Parables do this better than any other kind of speech. Amazing what one surfaces when one begins to look at “reality” from a new angle. People become more important than our personal rights; loving others more important than rules and regulations.
For the vast majority of Jesus’ followers, the uncovering of God’s kingdom among them was as much a surprise as finding a buried treasure or discovering the pearl for which someone had searched for a lifetime. It was a life-altering experience. Nothing or no one would ever be the same again.
Yet discovering God’s kingdom doesn’t take us out of the ordinary world which everyone experiences. Matthew presumes we’ll have to wait until Jesus’ Parousia before the contents of the “net of life” are separated into the “wicked” and the “righteous.” In the meantime we have to live in the world we’re dealt.
Of course we live in it with Solomon’s “understanding heart,” judging people and situations around us with eyes and ears which constantly surface God at work in that world. We’re expected to be people who continually discover God’s kingdom whenever we turn a new corner.
We presume Paul had this kingdom of God insight in the back of his mind when he dictated today’s Roman’s pericope. It plays an essential role in his conviction that “all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” But to what are we “called?” To go to church on Sunday? To send our kids to Catholic schools? To create a hierarchical church? To follow every aspect of canon law? The Apostle’s answer includes none of the above.
Paul simply reminds the Christian community in Rome that we’re to “conform (ourselves) to the image of (God’s) Son.” We, like he, are to commit ourselves to a quest to surface God working effectively among us. That’s basically what it means to become “other Christs.” That’s the aspect of himself which this itinerant preacher expected his followers to imitate.
It’s clear from the last verse of today’s gospel that Matthew accepted that challenge. Just as Alfred Hitchcock frequently inserted himself in most of his movies, so Matthew inserts himself in his gospel. Scripture scholars presume he’s “the scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven, (one) who like the head of the household brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” Jesus’ followers are committed to adhering to the “old things” which he as a reformer preached. But they’re also just as committed to discovering the daily newness of the risen Jesus breaking into their lives. Both are essential parts of the same faith.