SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2020)
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalms 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
In today’s gospel Jesus continues to teach His disciples in parables, parables, like last week, that most likely were uttered without any specific explanation. The agricultural imagery, as well as the image of baking bread, would be familiar images to the people of Jesus’ day. While Jesus says He spoke in parables to “fulfill what has been said by the prophet,” we know that He spoke in parables to get His listeners to think, to draw conclusions which would lead them to discover something about God’s kingdom which had dawned with His birth.
Our first reading, often chosen to shed light on the third reading, the gospel, was written less than one hundred years before Jesus began His preaching, a relatively short time when speaking about the Scriptures. The Book of Wisdom was written to remind the Jewish people “of the wealth of their tradition and the wonders of their God” (McGone). The God of the Jewish people was distinctly different from the gods of the Greeks and Romans, gods who were fickle and jealous, and easily influenced by the actions of men and women. The God that Jesus revealed had no use for man’s “offerings and sacrifices,” and that God was neither vengeful nor capricious. Rather, the God Jesus revealed is the God so often spoken of in the psalms, a God who is “good and forgiving, abounding in kindness and fidelity.” Important for us, that God is “merciful and gracious, [and] slow to anger.”
Wisdom highlights the uniqueness of the Jewish God: “there is no god besides you who have the care of all.” As you would expect of God, God is “mighty,” the “master of might.” But that might is the “source of justice,” and the “mastery over all things” does not make God vengeful or angry, but makes God “lenient to all,” and disposes God to “judge with clemency.” Indeed, God’s all-powerful might teaches people that “those who are just must be kind,” and that He is acting as He teaches, for He “permits repentance” when people sin. What kind of world, what kind of Church, would we have if this most fundamental, yet ancient teaching of Wisdom, were put into practice?
The reader is surely asking, what does this teaching from Wisdom have to do with the primary parable from the gospel of Matthew, the parable of the weeds and wheat? Our attention, especially with the explanation provided by Matthew at the end of today’s gospel, is drawn to the seeds that are planted and to the harvest. But it is worthy of note, that the actual parable is meant to draw our attention elsewhere: “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his soil.” That man, as the explanation explicitly says, is God, the “Son of Man.” It is God we are talking about in this parable. He is the sower and the one in charge of the harvest; He is the one who orders his workers to allow the weeds and the wheat to grow together, lest in the removal of the weeds some wheat might be lost. The eagerness of the workers to uproot the weeds and get back at the enemy who planted the bad seed is tempered by a God who is willing to live with the imperfection of his garden until the time was right. The workers would risk ruin if they were left to judge the wheat from the weeds. It is the sower who will judge, when the time is right, between weeds and wheat; at “the end of the age” a proper judgement will be made, and justice will be served. Pope Francis’ famous words should be on the lips of all the workers: “Who am I to judge?”
Far too often, in the world in which we live, self-made Messiahs creep up who have little patience living with an imperfect garden/world, and who are far too eager to make judgements that should be left to God. In this time before the end of the age harvest, we are called to be like the God who has sown the Word in our hearts. If we judge at all it is to be with “clemency.” We are to be concerned for “all,” weeds and wheat and everything in between. We are to be “lenient” with those for whom we have lost patience, and above all we are to be “kind,” allowing those from whom we differ the time to “repent for their sins.”
In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, St. Jerome (ca. 347-ca. 420) says: “when this tiny gospel [parable of the mustard seed] teaching that seemed insignificant at the beginning has been planted either in the soul of the believer or throughout the world, it does not turn out to be just a plant. It grows into a tree, so that the birds of the air, which we interpret as the souls of believers or deeds dedicated to the service of God, come and dwell on its branches.” May we fill the trees planted by a loving God with “deeds dedicated to the service of God,” and may our lives, modeled on that of the supreme Sower, be the reason that people come to see that “the kingdom of heaven” is truly in our midst.