What's In Your Hotdog?
Homily for July 23, 2017 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi
Today’s Gospel got me to thinking: what might Jesus liken the Kingdom of Heaven to today? More specifically, what kind of food? After all, Jesus often talked about food and eating in his parables.
I’ve decided that if Jesus was talking to us today, he might compare the Kingdom of Heaven to a – hotdog. Seriously! Just look at the three different metaphors he used to describe members of the Kingdom in today’s Gospel: as seeds of wheat, as mustard seeds, and as yeast. All of them are ingredients in a good hotdog.
But before I go into details about a “good” hotdog, let’s look a little closer as to why Jesus used these three metaphors for members of the Kingdom. And to do that, we need to understand a little about St. Matthew’s Gospel and the people that he was writing it for. Many scholars believe that it was written sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and it was probably written in Antioch where the Church, initially strongly Jewish Christian, had become one in which Gentile Christians were predominant. The persecutions they suffered for their faith were beginning to get serious, challenging their faith. So Matthew reminds them that their persecutions should not be unexpected, and in fact he writes to strengthen them – to let them know not only what it meant to be a Christian but to give them hope.
Let’s begin with the wheat. As wheat begins to grow, it is often hard to differentiate between it and the weeds that would grow up beside it. Further, the plants could be so closely intertwined that if you tried to remove the weeds, you could end up hurting or destroying the wheat. While it would have been common practice to “weed” the garden as the plants grew, it was better to nurture the wheat and then deal with the weeds at harvest time than risk losing the very crops you were trying to protect.
So it was in the early Church. The familiar relationships that the disciples had were changing, and they would be facing opposition from those closest to them – their business associates, their friends and even family members. And they would have to make a choice – listen to those who would lead them astray, or to follow Jesus.
But Jesus emphasized how valuable every person was to God his Father. The first parable, then, is not only about the challenge of following Jesus in a society of conflicting values, but it is a lesson in tolerance of those who disagree with us and a warning about being judgmental, for it is for God to decide what are weeds as only He knows the true potential of every one of His children.
Next, we have the mustard seed. According to early Roman scholars, it was estimated that Jerusalem had a population of between 600,000 and 1.1 million – roughly the size the of Dallas. At Pentecost we hear about how a few thousand people joined the movement, but compared to the overall population it would be a drop in the bucket. But Jesus was pointing out that even from such a small beginning, the Kingdom would continue to grow and expand until people from all parts of the world and from every walk of life – Jews and Gentiles – would find it desirable and seek it. It was a promise that despite the smallness of their movement, if they persevered in faith the Kingdom would continue to grow and draw others to its shelter and comfort.
Finally, the yeast and the flour. Three measures of flour is a LOT – according to the Bread Monk, it would make about 75 pounds of bread, or 52 standard loaves. But bread, without yeast, is flat and relatively hard, and it is in the action of the yeast which causes it to rise and have the texture that we bread lovers come to appreciate.
So it is in the Kingdom. Just as yeast works to enlarge the dough, we too have a responsibility to work to expand the Kingdom – and even our smallest efforts can be used by God. It is the 30, 60 or a hundredfold yield that we heard of in last week’s Gospel.
And so, the wheat, the yeast, and even the mustard all contribute to the nature of the hotdog. But, to echo an old, old Wendy’s advertisement: Where’s the Beef? After all, we all know that you cannot have a hotdog without meat, and the best hotdogs are made with beef. So, what is at the heart of our hotdog?
It is Jesus himself. For, just as you cannot have a hotdog without the meat, you cannot have the Kingdom of Heaven without Jesus. Without Jesus, we’re just a hollow bun.
So, we need to ask ourselves – am I everything I need to be to be part of the Kingdom of Heaven? Am I Wheat, growing in my faith beside the weeds of the world, reaching up for the Son? Can others recognize that I am different than the weeds of the world?
Am I the Mustard which, through the color and aroma of my life, makes the Kingdom appear desirable to others? Or am I like salt that has lost its taste?
And, am I the Yeast, working to expand the Kingdom for others? Am I active in my faith every day and not just a spectator on weekends?
I’ve been called a “hotdog” before, but I’m not, not really. There’s only one hotdog in my life. It’s Jesus.