Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
On Saturday I visited someone with advanced dementia.
I believe that cognitive ability is great. It is a way to exercise control over one’s life which is why losing one’s cognitive abilities is such a scary thought for many. Exercising control over one’s life is something we practise from when we are children, it is what determines whether one is ready to launch from the protection of the parental home, and it was the mantra I gave my children when I taught them to ski: “It’s not about how fast you can go, it’s about whether you can control your speed.”
When I visit someone with dementia it is like visiting with a good friend, the conversation does not matter all that much but being together does. In fact, it is a sign of deep friendship and intimacy to be able to spend time together without the need to always need to talk. Not every friendship is like that, but those that are are a profound gift because we can simply be and no longer feel we have to perform.
So, we sat together. I held his hand and chatted a bit now and then. And then I sung a couple of hymns. It is great to visit Christian brothers and sisters who know the vocabulary of faith and who know the hymns. Of course, “the hymns” are not usually the ones I grew up with. Singing often is something people with advanced dementia often still understand. ABBA would also work, although I prefer hymns.
When I left the hospital I saw that the young woman who had sat on the curb of the driveway to the hospital was still sitting there. My walk back to the car took me right past her. I noticed that by now she had emptied her purse and all contents were spread out in front of her. I stopped to visit with her. She was disappointed that the hospital had refused to admit her, that people had spoken with her but not paid proper attention to her, a complaint that many homeless people have. It was obvious that she had substance abuse issues and was homeless. As many do not know how to interact with people suffering from dementia, so most of us do not know how to interact with people with addictions and mental health issues, the result is a disconnect and a feeling among homeless people to always be judged by the rest of us, which is probably true most of the time.
I had nothing to offer the young woman, not that she asked. It was not in Richmond where I am beginning to figure out what some of the resources are. But I had stopped simply because stopping and asking whether she had a place to go was better than walking past her a second time.
In our Gospel reading we hear more parables. We skip a few verses, notably the explanation of the parable of the weeds we read last Sunday, and Jesus’ word about the parables as the means to proclaim things that have been hidden since the beginning of the world.
The parables we hear are of the mustard seed and leaven, of treasure buried in a field, pearl, and the catch of the dragnet.
The short parables of mustard seed and leaven follow the parable of the weeds. While in the parable of the weeds it was an enemy who had sown the weeds but the master instructed his servants to wait until harvest time to separate wheat from weeds, because they simply are not able to distinguish; in the parable of the mustard see it is the farmer himself who sows mustard seed onto his field; and mustard, we must know, was considered a weed. The same goes for the parable of the leaven. The New Testament normally uses leaven as a sign of corruption but here the leaven is a sign of God’s Kingdom.
At the very least this confuses things. Leaven and weeds are now a sign of the Kingdom and things are not as simple as they seem. Perhaps even when we act as weeds God can still produce fruit. Like in the story of Joseph and his brothers who had sold him into slavery. “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.” (Genesis 50:20)
Or perhaps what we consider weeds are not actually weeds. Perhaps our humanity and our created likeness to God cannot be destroyed by dementia or drug abuse, no matter what we think. Rather those we often do not know what to do with are still treasured by God.
Finally, the stories of leaven and mustard are about Jesus becoming a weed for us, being sown into the world to be rejected by the world in order to overcome rejection for the building of God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom built on God’s ideas and not ours. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. Jesus, the one rejected, is the foundation of our lives.
His is a Kingdom that grows and that does indeed offer place to build nests, and place to be at home in God.
Leaven and mustard seed grow pretty much on their on their own and this Kingdom appears not unlike the sun and rain that benefit just and unjust alike. God comes to us regardless of our worthiness, because it is God’s nature to love.
And yet this does not render our activity meaningless. In fact, God longs for our involvement. We are not condemned to inactivity, though God’s activity does not depend on our activity.
The parables of the treasure and pearl, and to some extent the parable of the dragnet, show God’s desire for our participation. The two in pursuit of treasure and pearl reorder their priorities, and as much as the Gospel is a gift, if the Gospel is received, it cannot but reorder our priorities to help us see the image of God in all.