A Scriptural Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, July 17, 2011, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Parables are the coded letters left by the Divine Lover

 | Carl E. Olson

• Wis 12:13, 16-19
• Psa 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
• Rom 8:26-27
• Matt 13:24-43

What is the Kingdom of God? How does it come about? And how will it grow?

These are some of the questions addressed in the parables of Jesus, including the seven parables found in Matthew 13. These parables are not simply stories with a moral, nor are they theological tracts or even pithy catechetical lessons. Parables are not, writes Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis in the second volume of Fire of Mercy, Heart of the World (Ignatius Press, 2003), “a test of human intelligence that functions like riddles. Rather they are verbal strategies of grace that test the willingness of the human heart to surrender to, and be enfolded by, the always surprising generosity of Wisdom.”

Leiva-Merikakis describes a parable, strikingly, as “a coded letter left by a Lover” (p 192). He points out that the original Greek renditions of the parables are imbued with a beautiful musicality, adding even more meaning to Jesus’ exhortation: “He who has ears, let him hear” (Mt 13:9). God’s love for mankind is such that the eternal Word uses words of beauty to redeem our souls and transform our hearts.

Today’s Gospel reading contains three of the seven parables: the parables of the weeds among the wheat, the mustard seed, and the yeast (or leaven). Like the parable of the sower and seeds heard last week, all three express something about the growth of the Kingdom and how God’s word brings about that mysterious—and often unseen—growth.

Like the parable of the sower and the seeds, the parable of the weeds among the wheat has an agricultural setting. However, the parable is unique to Matthew’s Gospel and does not appear in the other Gospels. The focus is less on the response of the soil to the sower’s seeds and more on the mystery of evil and how it grows alongside what the Son of Man has planted in the field of the world. In his explanation of the parable to the disciples, Jesus draws a stark contrast between the children of the kingdom and the children of the evil one. Those who hear the word of God and reject it are the children of Satan. Having been offered light, they choose darkness (cf., Jn 1:9-11; 3:19-20). 

But, as Saint Augustine noted, what is currently wheat can become a weed, and what is a weed can still become wheat “and no one knows what they will be tomorrow.” It is right to lament the sins committed by sons and daughters of the Church. But we shouldn’t be blind to our own weaknesses, nor to the ravenous appetite of the devil, who “is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). Mindful of our failings, as the Apostle Paul exhorts the Romans in today’s epistle, we must trust in the Holy Spirit, who “comes to the aid of our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought.”

The parable of the mustard seed, although short, is memorable in its imagery, especially in the comparison between the largeness of the bush (growing to ten feet in height) and the smallness of the seed. Its central meaning is that the works of God often begin in small ways and are usually ignored or missed by the world. The temptation for the children of the Kingdom is to become impatient, forgetting that this tree has now been growing for thousands of years, and will continue to grow until the end of time.

Even shorter is the parable of the yeast, or leaven. From what seems to be of little consequence comes a super abundance, a theme echoing the reality of the Incarnation and the stunning truth of the empty tomb. It is Christ, the lover of mankind, who is the leaven. And it is through his death and Resurrection and by his Body and Blood that we are leavened—transformed and transferred into the always growing kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13).

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3 Responses to A Scriptural Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, July 17, 2011, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

  1. Brother Burrito says:

    Am I the only one who when first hearing “He who has ears, let him hear”, compulsively thought Our Lord was referring to ‘ears’ of wheat?! That silly thought still assails me to this day.

    I have made this point elsewhere, but think it bears repeating. Any seed is a future plant, but only if aided and abetted by the dust of the earth (minerals), water, air, and the fire of the seed’s latent metabolism. Dem ancients knew a thing or too!

    Genesis mentions how God formed man from the dust of the earth, and breathed his Pneuma into him. It should be noted that Catholics also receive sacramentally the water of Baptism, and the Fire of the Holy Spirit. Bushy vibrant growth is assured.

    More idle nonsense from moi.


  2. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Br B

    As an 8 year old child and when singing ‘Faith of our Fathers’, I persistently heard, “We will be true to beetle death”.

    My father, a convert, and unused to Northern English, misheard “Away in Manger”, for “A wean in a manger”. Logical, though.


  3. Jacquelyn Taylor Baumberg says:

    Our priest, speaking in his homily yesterday on the parable of the weeds and the wheat, made a point about the agriculture of Jesus’ time which I had never realized before. I had always imagined the weeds as being some kind of green nuisance plants (like those in my garden) which grew more or less on their own amongst the wheat but were easy to see and quite clearly different from it.

    But it was a good deal more subtle than that. The weeds were plants which were in fact very similar in appearance to the wheat and therefore difficult to tell apart, and which were sometimes quite deliberately sown by an enemy of the farmer to complicate and possibly destroy his wheat crop in revenge for some misdeed or other.

    It was the similarity in appearance of the weeds and the wheat which struck me as a very interesting point in terms of the Gospel teaching. It really is difficult sometimes to tell the difference. Maybe this is why God is so patient with us when we don’t or can’t, and why He tells us not to judge.


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