16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
|The Mustard Bush|
We should consider passages like today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom as a kind of reflection on what the ancient author had observed about the human condition. Wisdom teaches that despite all of the failings of humankind, God is not a God of condemnation. In this passage the author insists that God does not condemn us but that we condemn ourselves.
God is the source of justice, and his power makes him not a vengeful dictator but “lenient to all.” We cannot imagine that God can be pleased when we condemn ourselves to a life of misery and suffering. We read,
But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency
And with much lenience you govern us…
These words introduce us to the Kingdom of God, the subject of the three parables or stories in today’s gospel. The thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew is full of parables about the Kingdom of God. Last week the beginning of the chapter gave us the famous parable of the Sower and the Seed. Today’s three short parables immediately follow and expand on the theme of spiritual growth while giving us an idea of what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God.
The first one is about a farmer who sows good seed only to find that some enemy has planted bad seed in the same field. Subsequently, weeds grow up along with the wheat. When the farmer’s servants ask him what to do, he says to let them grow together until the harvest when they will be separated.
Two thousand years later it is not hard to mistake the meaning of this parable, or to see its relevance in our own time when everything imaginable is growing up together. Daily the news brings us stories of bombings, massacres, violence and depravity along with stories of great heroism, decency and charity. However, for most of us in our own lives, it is often hard to tell the wheat from the weeds.
In the explanation at the end of the passage we do hear that only at the end will there be a separation.
The Son of Man will send his angels,
And they will collect out of his kingdom
All who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
We notice that ejection from the kingdom is not the will of God, nor does it depend on anyone’s race, nationality, gender, social or economic status, or even religious beliefs. It depends on how we have conducted our lives. The other two parables also bear this message. The mustard seed is the smallest of seeds but it grows to become the largest of plants. The least of us can accomplish great things in our own little way. The parable of the yeast that leavens the dough to make it rise and ultimately become edible is also an example of the way we all can bear much fruit.
St. Therese, a Carmelite nun who died in her early twenties, advocated the “little way”. Her words and life resonated through the whole Church and today she is regarded as one of a handful of Doctors of the Church. My own Italian immigrant grandparents were born just a few years after St. Therese and, while they will never be canonized, in their own little way I believe that they also bore much fruit. Like millions of other poor and hardly educated immigrants they left their homeland to build a better life for themselves and their families.
St. Paul says in today’s second reading that all of us are filled with the Spirit of God, and it is that Spirit that can make us accomplish great things.
The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness,
For we do not know how to pray as we ought…
So, even if we are not skilled in prayer or filled with theological knowledge, the Spirit of God will guide us in everything we do. Sometimes we feel that if we only had a little more time in our busy lives to meditate and pray, we might become closer to God’s Kingdom. However, I like to think that in these parables Jesus is teaching us that the little things we do in our ordinary lives are the things that really bring us into the Kingdom of God. All have been called to be good and faithful stewards and we have our work cut out for us.
Reading 1. Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Reading II. Romans 8:26-27
Gospel. Matthew 13: 24-43 (Kingdom of Heaven)