THE NEIGHBORHOOD – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12, Year A; Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (RC)

July 26, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary

Genesis 29:15-28 or 1 Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b or Psalm 128 or Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Lectionary for Mass (RC)

1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
Psalm 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130 (97a)
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-46 (47-52)

Today’s Gospel reading resembles a visit to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—specifically to The Neighborhood of Make-Believe, ruled by King Friday XIII and populated by a wildly diverse and quirky cast of characters. The Neighborhood of Make-Believe is a dream world that Fred Rogers created to offer us a glimpse into life as it could be. The characters experience life in all its breadth, with all its joys and challenges, and they discover that love and openness are key to dealing with the events of their lives.

The short and seemingly simple parables about the reign of God that we hear today also take us to an alternative universe that seems far from the real world in which we live. What merchant would sell everything to purchase a single pearl? How could a person get away with digging around someone else’s property to discover a hidden treasure, then give up everything else to swindle the owner?

Mister Rogers had a knack for telling stories that opened up a conversation with children about life issues that others sometimes preferred to avoid, such as death or divorce. The parables of Jesus challenge listeners to imagine the reign of God—the neighborhood where God is in charge—in ways that contrast in often startling ways with our comfortable assumptions.

These parables reveal the elusive nature of God’s reign—it’s like a small seed or a valuable pearl or a rancid leavening agent or a conniving trespasser. Just when we’ve got our heads wrapped around one of these images, we encounter another one that takes us back to square one in trying to understand this reign of God that Jesus proclaims.

Like The Neighborhood of Make-Believe, the reign of God portrayed in the parables of Jesus is populated by a variety of characters, some of whom we might not have expected to find there. It’s striking how single-minded they are. They will do anything and give up anything to “get” it.

And how does the parable engage us? There’s way more here than we can ever grasp. Two things are certain though: If we want to follow Jesus in seeking the reign of God, we can’t exclude anyone, and we need to give it our all. The world that Jesus sets before us may seem like make-believe, but it doesn’t get any more real than this.

A Hymn for Today: “What Is the World Like”

The parables of Jesus are full of surprises and reversals. Text writer Adam M. L. Tice and composer Sally Ann Morris give expression to this aspect of parables in this hymn that they created for the concluding hymn festival at the 2009 Annual Conference of The Hymn Society. Tice’s text gives us a vision of what God’s neighborhood is like as he draws on four parables that framed that hymn festival.

What is the world like when God’s will is done?
Mustard seeds grow more than we can conceive:
Roots thread the soil; branches reach for the sun.
This is how God moves us each to believe.

What is the world like when God’s will is done?
Witness the wandering child coming home;
Watch as the parents breaks into a run.
This is how God longs for us when we roam.

What is the world like when God’s will is done?
No more is neighbor just ally or friend;
Peace thrives in places where once there was none.
This is how God works when rivalries end.

What is the world like when God’s will is done?
Ready for feasting, we watch through the night
Tending our lamps till the new day’s begun.
This is how God readies us for the light.

These are the stories that Jesus imparts,
Filled with the Spirit, who joins us as one.
Born through our voices, our hands, and our hearts,
This is a new world where God’s will is done.

Text: Adam M. L. Tice, 2009, © 2009, GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Image: Characters from The Neighborhood of Make-Believe, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.