Sunday Scripture: The value of the kingdom
July 17, 2011
By Father Timothy Schehr
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wisdom 12:13-19; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43
This Sunday we hear three parables about the kingdom of God. They build on each other, each one illuminating in its own way the kingdom’s presence and value. The first parable highlights God’s protection of it; the second, the kingdom’s benefits; the third, the kingdom’s influence for good.
Jesus uses parables to capture the imagination of the crowds that might normally resist what He has to say. The Lord cannot force people to accept the kingdom. But through the parables they may begin to see the value of the kingdom and be inspired to invest in it more deeply. The apostles, on the other hand, are already motivated to learn about the kingdom; they ask Jesus to explain some of the parables in more detail.
In the first parable, a man sows good seed in his field. But at night an enemy sows weeds in the same field. As the plants mature, the character of the two very different seeds becomes apparent, but the owner does not want to remove the weeds too soon for fear of losing some of the good wheat. Only at the end of the growing season does the owner allow the workers to remove the weeds and then harvest the good grain.
The workers in the field want to remove the weeds as soon as they make their appearance. Their proposal seems perfectly reasonable. But the owner does not allow this. Thus the owner’s decision is the surprising element of the parable. It draws attention to the degree of care and concern the owner has for the good seed.
The surprise in the second parable is the contrast between the beginning and the end. At the beginning, the kingdom of God is almost imperceptible, like the smallest of seeds planted in a field. But in the end, the seed has grown so big it attracts the birds of the sky. They even build nests in its branches. So now the little seed has grown so big it becomes a source of life for others.
The surprise in the third parable is the power of yeast to influence a large mass of dough. As in the previous two parables, the beginning is almost imperceptible. But in the end, there is no denying its presence and its value. This third parable also illustrates the kingdom’s influence for good.
The apostles are intrigued with the first parable and ask Jesus to explain it to them. Interestingly, they refer to it as “the parable of the weeds.” They could just as well have called it the parable of the wheat. Their choice of words displays their surprise that the weeds are left alone until the very end. Jesus wants them to understand this parable is about God and people. God is forbearing. Only at the very end does God separate the good and the wicked. In the meantime there is the possibility of conversion. The good may influence the wicked to change their ways. This lesson becomes apparent only when all three parables are read together. It explains why Matthew records the explanation of the first parable only after we have heard all three of them. God gives people every advantage to embrace the kingdom of heaven and “shine like the sun” in their Father’s kingdom. Little wonder the Gospel reading concludes with the Lord asking everyone to pay attention to His message.
This accent on God’s gracious mercy is the theme of the first reading. The author of the Book of Wisdom marvels at the way God’s uses power. Mortal kings often use power to condemn and destroy in an effort to protect their kingdoms. The King of heaven uses power to steer people towards the path of life.
Father Schehr is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.