Homily for the16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 19, 1981Matt 13: 24-30
Wis 12: 13, 16-19
Rom 8: 26-27
Mary Help of Christians Academy, North Haledon, N.J.
Preakness Hospital, Wayne, N.J.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field” (Matt 13: 24).
This might more accurately be rendered, “The kingdom of heaven is like the case of a man….” For the parable or comparison is between God’s kingdom and this man’s field, between God’s sovereign actions and the farmer’s.
The overriding theme of the reading today is God’s compassion. In the Pauline reading, it’s true, we can find the theme only indirectly. It is a mark of God’s compassion toward us that he has given us his very own Spirit to intercede for us in our weakness.
More plainly, Wisdom proclaims, “It is your sovereignty over all that causes you to spare all” (12:16). Since God has no one to whom he must answer, no one mightier than he, he not only can but “does judge with mildness” (v.18), teaching us that if we are to be his subjects in righteousness, we too “must be kind” (v.19). And God’s kindness and mercy are known by this, that he “gives repentance for sins; with forbearance he governs us” (vv. 19, 18).
Jesus makes the very same point in his little story. The Middle Eastern farmer pulled up the weeds in his field as soon as he could recognize them. His action assured a better environment for the wheat, true; but it also risked the accidental destruction of a portion of that immature wheat.
God behaves differently.
Reading ch. 12 of Matthew, as we’ve been doing this past week, we’ve seen Jesus in contention with the Pharisees. The issue is the compassion of Jesus, who is not bound by their strict interpretations of the Law. He allows his disciples to pluck and eat grain on the sabbath; he heals the sick on the sabbath—right in the synagogue! After all, can we pretend that many of our fellow worshippers wouldn’t be shocked if someone came forward in the middle of Mass, seeking a physical cure, and if, moreover, the celebrant responded by healing him, even in God’s name? Jesus threatens the established religious order of things. Why, he even associates with known sinners, with the unclean, with women, with foreigners! The leadership concluded that he is dangerous to piety—and to themselves—and must be destroyed.
Here in ch. 13, Jesus gives something of a reaction to the exclusiveness of the Pharisees. Yes, God has standards of exclusion. The weeds will be burned at harvest time.
But until the harvest, it’s not fully clear which are weeds and which wheat. God is a compassionate farmer in the field of mankind. He is quite content to let both weeds and wheat grown within the confines of his realm, and none can sort them out before the harvest. While we are growing to maturity in this growing season of life, we cannot be sure who is genuinely wheat, who genuinely belongs to God’s kingdom. And there is time for the inner truth to reveal itself, time for you and me to repent of our sinfulness and to reveal our true belonging to God.
Therefore we need be in no rush to pass judgment on one another. When we do so, it’s seldom with the mildness that governs God’s judgment, with the temperance of Jesus, the friend of sinners. Rather, we tend to be exclusionists like the Pharisees, to hold membership in the community of the good up to our own infallible standards.
Such tendencies may show in the Moral Majority if it passes from a valid political judgment to a spiritual one. It may show in a revival of American nativism in reaction to Vietnamese, Haitian, or Chicano immigrants’ taking a place in our little kingdom on earth. It may show in our attitudes toward the divorced, those who don’t go to church, those who are ignorant of faith, those who don’t live by our interpretation of the rules, those who hold different opinions from our own.
We are certainly free to uproot the weeds if we choose. To do so is to act not in God’s power, but in our own weakness, fear, and insecurity. Those are the driving forces behind the Pharisees of the New Testament, behind exclusivism of any sort. God’s sovereign power, his confidence, reveals mercy and compassion and time for all—including you and me—to repent.
If the kingdom of God is like the case of a man who sowed good seed in his field, how shall we act so as to be his coworkers in the harvest?