Traditionally the "teachability" of Matthew's Gospel has made it extremely popular. Like a universal catechism in story form it made Christianity accessible to the masses.
Nothing illustrates this principle like chapter 13, the collection of Jesus' parables. The third of the five great discourses in Matthew's Gospel, the parables put Jesus' teaching in easy-to-grasp images and ear-catching stories.
By contrast, the second readings for these five Sundays draw from one of the most difficult-to-grasp chapters in the Bible: Romans 8. The long sequence of readings well deserves a thoughtful meditation.
Although summer invites a catechesis of relaxed intensity, the parables offer a "user-friendly" approach to spiritual formation, and Romans 8 will challenge us more deeply.
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 4, 1993)
Matthew's five discourses of Jesus are divided by five narratives. Today, we hear the conclusion of one: a prayer to the Father and an invitation to the disciples (11:25-30). The prayer identifies Jesus with the Father; the invitation proclaims that his yoke is easy and his burden light.
Today's first reading (Zech 9:1-10) is quoted in Matthew's account of Passion Sunday. It depicts a king coming meek, riding on a colt, and prepares us for Jesus' self-description in today's Gospel.
Paul explains the role of the immortal Spirit dwelling in mortal bodies (Rom 8:9, 11-13). He urges us to live by the Spirit, not by the flesh.
Catechesis may cover Christology, focusing on the Gospel; or on images of Christ, comparing the first two readings. The second reading may enliven a discussion on the results of baptism: How Christians are called to live differently from others. Falling on Independence Day, this text could also stir a discussion on the "spirit" and "flesh" of our nation.
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 11, 1993)
The parables begin with the sower, a marvelous allegory of the word of God (13:1-23 or 1-9). Preceded by Isaiah's description of the potency of God's Word (55:10-11), the Gospel leads a meditation on God's revelation.
Paul contrasts the sufferings of the present life with the glory of the age to come (Rom 8:18-23). All creation groans as we await redemption.
Catechesis may discuss the role of the parable, the effectiveness of story-telling, and the power of God's Word. It may present the different modes of God's revelation. Or, starting from the second reading, it may meditate on suffering, the human condition, or the controversy over "creation spirituality."
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 18, 1993)
Weeds and wheat carry the seed theme into another parable, together with a reflection on why Jesus uses this form of catechesis (13:24-43 or 24-30). Images concern the cohabitation of good and evil, the slow growth of God's reign, and the importance of openly receiving the word. Wisdom (12:13, 16-19) meditates on the power of God as final judge.
Paul explains that the Sprit helps us pray since we are too weak, and God who understands what we cannot express by ourselves knows what the Spirit means (Rom 8:26-27).
Catechesis may start here - our struggles for prayer, the different forms it may take, and the freedom that comes in centering prayer. Or taking a cue from Jesus, the parables may be applied to today's search for meaning in a society plagued by evil, where the growth of God's reign seems too slow for those who at first receive the word with joy.
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 25, 1993)
The parables conclude with stories of the value of the reign of God and the judgment it brings (13:44-52 or 44-46). "Have you understood all this?" Jesus asks. A good question for catechists. At their best, catechists will imitate Solomon, who asks for wisdom above every other gift (1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12).
Paul continues reflecting on life in the Spirit by proclaiming that those living in the church community share the image of the son, predestined, called, justified, and glorified (Rom 8:28-30).
Catechesis could well reflect on the nature of catechesis today. In the light of the parables, what is it we try to accomplish when we gather? How do we recognize wisdom, and where do we get it? Paul leads us into a profound discussion on church membership -- the nature of "predestination" and "justification" could spark discussions that will clarify ecumenical similarities and differences.
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 1, 1993)
Matthew returns to his narrative to tell the only miracle all four Gospels record; the multiplication of the loaves (14:13-21). Signifying God's bounty the miracle prepares us for the last meal of Jesus' earthly life. How wonderful to hear Isaiah inviting all who are poor and thirsty to the messianic banquet (55:1-3)!
As if this largesse is not enough, Paul overwhelms us with a proclamation of God's love: "neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future, nor any creature will be able to separate us from the love of God." And that love comes to us in Christ (Rom 8:35, 37-39).
These texts will foster a reflection on the security we feel in the arms of God who cares for us, especially through the incarnation and the eucharist. Catechesis may stress the gift of Christ in the flesh and in bread and wine, the structure of the Mass, and the challenge to carry on Christ's mission of love for the poor in our society.