Sunday, July 19, 2020
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Liturgical Color: Green
First reading: Wisdom 12:13, 16–19
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 86:5–6, 9–10, 15–16
Second reading: Romans 8:26–27
Gospel: Matthew 13:24–43
Today’s readings plainly teach that God is both the Almighty and Supreme One and the Lenient and Kind One. These two “faces” of God are complementary, not mutually exclusive. The Protestant Reformers, Calvin in particular, saw God as a distant, unrelenting Being who had no feeling for his creation and would just as soon destroy it as preserve it. This is not at all the Catholic position. Why would God create man in his own image and likeness, only to ignore him or judge him? That is inconsistent thinking, and therefore unworthy of God. He is not whimsical or changeable; his will is eternal. As the First Reading states, “For your strength is the source of righteousness, and your sovereignty over all causes you to spare all.” Whoever is truly willing to accept God’s grace and mercy will receive it.
However, this does not mean that evildoers get a free pass. “For you show your strength when men doubt the completeness of your power, and rebuke any insolence among those who know it.” In spite of God’s mercy, there will be a judgment, and those who reject him, he in turn will reject.
The third point made in this passage from the book of Wisdom is that God’s people must be like him: “Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous man must be kind.” Being godly is a definite requirement if we humans are to reach our goal, which is the Promised Land — Heaven.
The Psalm seconds these divine attributes and human requirements: “You, O LORD, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity. Turn toward me, and have pity on me; give your strength to your servant.” Therefore, if we experience the wrath of God, it is a pain of our own making.
Not only is God merciful and kind, he even helps us in our journey toward him: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness… because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” So long as we keep trying, God will lift us up and help us to achieve that longed-for sainthood. But if we are not willing to work at it, even the Holy Spirit can’t help us.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks in our Christian life is losing our way through distraction, especially when we lose the benefits of prayer by focusing on things other than our heavenly goal.
2729 The habitual difficulty in prayer is distraction. It can affect words and their meaning in vocal prayer; it can concern, more profoundly, him to whom we are praying, in vocal prayer (liturgical or personal), meditation, and contemplative prayer. To set about hunting down distractions would be to fall into their trap, when all that is necessary is to turn back to our heart: for a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to, and this humble awareness before the Lord should awaken our preferential love for him and lead us resolutely to offer him our heart to be purified. Therein lies the battle, the choice of which master to serve.
2730 In positive terms, the battle against the possessive and dominating self requires vigilance, sobriety of heart. When Jesus insists on vigilance, he always relates it to himself, to his coming on the last day and every day: today. The bridegroom comes in the middle of the night; the light that must not be extinguished is that of faith: “‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds is often overlooked when people discuss morality. The wheat that is sown finds itself choked off by weeds. The mixing of darnel (“cockle” in older English texts), a poisonous weed, with a farmer’s wheat crop, usually goes undetected by its similar appearance as a young plant, until it is too late, and the serpentine darnel roots are intertwined with the wheat roots, so that the weed cannot be extracted without ripping up the wheat as well. Enemies used this property to attack the farmer, or more broadly, the kingdom in which he dwelt. For this reason, the practice was outlawed by Roman law, with severe punishment for the perpetrators. Jesus lived in a time of Roman occupation of the Holy Land, and this law actually applied there, so the people definitely knew what he was talking about.
Now that we have the background, we can understand the solution proposed in the parable by the owner of the land so sabotaged (in the Gospel, this would be God): Let the darnel (the “sons of the devil,” evil men) continue to grow along with the wheat (the “sons of the Kingdom,” righteous men) until harvest time (the end of the world). When the harvest is made, the darnel can be sorted from the wheat, bundled and burned, while the wheat itself can be gathered, winnowed and stored for food as needed.
While making its way on earth, the Church is composed of good and bad people, just men and sinners: they are mixed in with one another until the harvest time, the end of the world, when the Son of man, in his capacity as Judge of the living and the dead, will divide the good from the bad at the Last Judgment — the former going to eternal glory, the inheritance of the saints; the latter, to the eternal fire of hell. Although the just and the sinners are now side by side, the Church has the right and the duty to exclude those who cause scandal, especially those who attack its doctrine and unity; this it can do through ecclesiastical excommunication and other canonical penalties. However, excommunication has a medicinal and pastoral function — to correct those who are obstinate in error, and to protect others from them. (Navarre Bible Commentary)
Furthermore, as Jesus points out in the Parable of the Mustard Seed, which follows, that Kingdom, while it may appear really puny at the moment, “the smallest of all seeds” will eventually grow into “the greatest of shrubs, [becoming] a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” The birds, as we know from biblical passages such as Ezekiel 17:22–24 and 31:2–13 as well as Daniel 4:17–18, are the Gentile nations, whose peoples will be converted to Christ. So we, who live 2,000 years after those times, have no need to fear that the Church, which we are told through Scripture is the Body of the eternal Christ in our midst, will not remain alive and green until the end of the world.
But how will this be accomplished, if those evil people stifle the word of God and bind in chains the People of God? The Holy Spirit answers this objection additionally, by adding here the Parable of the Leaven (or Yeast). The “three measures of flour” Jesus speaks of here is actually more than 50 pounds — a huge amount, enough to feed a multitude. Jesus may have in mind a crowd like the five thousand (plus wives and children, a total of perhaps 20,000 people, according to the various commentators) whom he fed in the wilderness with half an armload of bread.
What this Parable of the Leaven points to is that the graces that the People of God possess are not something that evildoers can kill or steal, but are the intangible working of faith, hidden within the soul and bringing the faithful Christians to fruition in spite of everything those evil people can do. It permeates the entire “batch” of Christians instead of being held in a particular place. It is thus out of the enemy’s reach.
Notice, finally, a couple of interesting details. The Gospel narrative tells us the following:
All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
First, who is the prophet? The text is from Psalm 78:2, which is “attributed to Asaph. In 2 Chronicles 29:30 of the Greek Old Testament, Asaph is called a “prophet.” In any case, all Old Testament writers were inspired by the Spirit and thus prophets (cf. Matthew 22:43; 2 Peter 1:20–21).” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible)
Again, the narrative tells us:
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.”
So Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, little morality stories, to get his message across without embroiling the unlettered people in theological niceties. There is a long line of theological experts who claim, on the basis of certain Gospel verses that speak of the incomprehension of what Jesus said to the crowds as somehow intentional on his part. This is far from the truth. Yes, there was certainly puzzlement and misapprehension floating around, but what was being reported there in Semitic terminology was simply one of the natural results of his speech, not something he desired to provoke. Jesus knew that, no matter how plainly he spoke, a goodly number of people would misunderstand, because their minds and hearts were concentrated on other things.
But our Lord did instruct his disciples in private, because they needed to understand these things in order to teach others at a later time, in faraway lands and in other tongues. Yes, they would be aided by the Holy Spirit, but they also needed a good grounding in what Jesus’ doctrine was all about.