A woman found a lamp and, as she examined it, out popped a genie. “Do I get three wishes?” she asked. “Nope, I’m a one-wish genie. What will it be?” She pulled out a map and said “see this map? I want these countries to stop fighting so we can have world peace.” They’ve been fighting for many centuries. I’m not that good. What else do you have?” the genie asked the lady. “Well, I’d like a good man. One who’s considerate, loves kids, is filthy rich, likes to cook, and doesn’t watch sports all day.” “Okay,” the genie said with a sigh. “Let me see that map again.”
What would we ask for if God or a one-wish genie appeared to us? When Solomon asked for wisdom it shows he was already wise. Unfortunately he didn’t keep using his wisdom to serve God’s people well. He married too many wives and spent the country into bankruptcy, so much so that when he died the country split into two kingdoms, pretty much isolating the kings who were descendants of David and Solomon. I felt I needed to add that part about Solomon, because having wisdom does not mean we will always make good use of it. Let us return now to today’s gospel. This is the third week now we have been hearing parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. What would we be willing to spend all of our money on, like the people in today’s gospel? We may think the parables of the treasure and the pearl need no explanation. Certainly Heaven will be all that we could ever desire and more so. But there is a subtle message here that we must not miss. Notice the persons who discovered the treasure and the pearl made it their highest priority. Nothing else was more important. Our search for the kingdom of God has to be our highest priority. Everything we have attained in life or might attain will give us some satisfaction and happiness, but everything is temporary. Entering into the Kingdom of heaven which Jesus has revealed to us is happiness forever. What could be more important than that?
The parable of the fishing net that gathered up good fish as well as bad is very similar to the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Its message is to trust in God’s final judgment and to be patient until that time comes. The perennial problem of evil in the world will be resolved. We have to be careful not to give these parables an interpretation that supports John Calvin’s form of predestination. It is true, the wheat and the weeds as well as with the good fish and the bad represent two types of things of superior and inferior quality. John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism would argue God creates people that way too and there’s nothing any of us can do to change it. In Calvin’s view God creates us destined to either heaven or hell, and we cannot change our destiny. To think that way would contradict the entire message of the gospel. We are called to holiness and we have a free will to choose God’s grace or to disregard it. Remember it is in Matthew’s gospel that we read the account of the Last Judgment where the “Son of Man” will separate peoples of all nations inviting one group to enter the kingdom of Heaven and commanding the other to depart from him into the everlasting fire. It is on this basis that they are separated: on the basis of “what you have done for the least of my brothers and sisters you did it for me.” Weeds can’t change their nature, nor can fish that are inedible, but because we are human with a free will, we can change ourselves, with God’s help, when our life is going in the wrong direction.
The correct way to think of “predestination” is that we are all predestined to heaven, a place “prepared for us from the beginning of the world” as Jesus calls it (Mt. 25,34), but the gospels tell-us not everyone lives up to the destiny God has created them for. There is a strange image at the end of the parable about the fish, that the bad fish will be thrown into a furnace of fire. Usually bad fish are just thrown back into the water. This image of being thrown into a furnace of fire and the weeping and gnashing of teeth is symbolic language for eternal suffering. Jesus asked his disciples “Have you understood all these things?” Let us pray for the wisdom to understand, not as with the wisdom of Solomon but with the wisdom of a faithful disciple of Jesus. Amen.