16th Sunday In Ordinary Time July 23rd 2023

In today’s gospel, Matthew puts before us a teaching of Jesus about ‘the Kingdom’ in parable form. The parables are invitations to learn what the coming of God’s liberating and life-giving reign should mean for us. Though our situation is very different from that of those who first heard these parables, they have a clear message for us. In the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast, we are consoled by the message that God can work wonders and produce abundance from even the smallest beginnings in the Kingdom. As the seed is hidden in the soil, the action of yeast by cellular division is hidden from the naked eye. God’s designs are hidden, but they are boundless in their promise, and continue to be worked out in the chaos of history.

The parable of the weeds, a parable unique to Matthew among the four canonical gospels, shows us that he believed the present time is a time of grace in which God allows weeds and wheat to grow together, and it is God’s to judge which is which. So, we are not to judge one another, but we are to live aware of the winnowing that is to come at God’s hands. The presence of forgiveness in our lives is an important criterion on which our obedience will be judged when the time comes. We are not to stroll judgmentally down the road of life, but we are to slow down in order to take stock of our own sins and to extend the same forgiveness we have received to others.  Mathew emphasizes that the one who teaches us this lesson on forgiveness is the Son of God, who has promised to be with us to the end of the age (Mt; 28:20).

Since the time of Jesus and until the great harvest comes, mustard seeds will continue to produce very large shrubs, beautiful doughs and breads will be produced by the action of yeast, wheat and weeds will grow alongside each other. That should not come as a surprise to us. However, an important question arises. What can malicious weed-sowing tell us about the kingdom of God? The image Jesus uses here is a common everyday example of planting, harvesting, and sorting the good crop from the bad. Weeds can spoil and even kill a good harvest if they are not removed and destroyed at the proper time. Just as nature teaches us patience, so God’s patience also teaches us to guard the seed, which is the word he has planted in our hearts and to beware of the destructive force of sin and evil which can destroy it. God’s word brings life, but Satan seeks to destroy the good seed which has been planted in the hearts of those who have heard God’s word. God’s judgment is not hasty, but it does come. In the end, God will reward each according to the life they have lived, what they have sown and what they have reaped.

The parable of the seed shows that in society, the community, the family and human beings exist side by side each with their own story, lived experiences, opinions, yearnings, and differences. Many do not know how, or find it difficult to live with difference. While we must speak out for the truth, we may well be tempted to emphasise our faithfulness by our impatience and intolerance towards those who do not journey with us. This parable of Jesus warns us that this is not God’s way. The reading from the book of Wisdom shows that, as the Old Testament was drawing to a close, devout thinkers in old Israel were recognising that ‘the virtuous person must be kindly to others’, learning from the mysterious patience of God. The parable of the seed and the darnel explains the way in which the force of the Kingdom acts throughout history. It is a pedagogical tool which uses daily life to indicate that life speaks to us of God. It becomes a reality and renders the people’s perspective contemplative. Only the Lord of the harvest – whose grace is at work in a hidden way in every human heart – can sort out the good from the bad when all is gathered in at the end. We who are blessed with the gift of faith must opt for justice, have patience and learn to live and to dialogue with difference and contradiction as we prepare for the final harvest by becoming an exemplary crop ourselves.

Mairead Morrissey, OP