Scripture Speaks: Kingdom of Heaven
Today, Jesus uses parables to teach about the kingdom of heaven. What do all three of them have in common?
Gospel (Read Mt 13:24-43)
In this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus uses parables to teach the large crowd gathered to hear Him at the seashore. In the first one, He says, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field.” However, during the cover of night, “while everyone was asleep,” an enemy came and sowed weeds all through his field. The weed, sometimes called “darnel,” looks very much like wheat in its early growth. If it gets ground up later with the wheat and made into flour, it can cause sickness. In Jesus’ day, personal vengeance sometimes took the form of sowing this weed in an enemy’s wheat field, a punishable crime in Roman law. In the parable, the slaves ask the landowner if they should pull up the weeds, but they are told, “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.” The plants will have to grow together until harvest time. By then, the weed will be easily recognizable; no wheat will be pulled up by mistake.
In the explanation He later gives the disciples, Jesus explains that the Sower is Jesus, the field is the world, and the seeds are either children of the kingdom or children of the evil one. In this, He makes it clear that goodness and wickedness will exist, side-by-side, until the end of time, when Jesus comes with His angels to execute justice. We might wonder why it will take so long to rid the world of evil. This question especially nags at us when we see evil in the Church, as well as the good. How we itch to clean up the field, as the servants in the parable did. The landowner cautions against this expediency, however, because he knows that sometimes it is hard to distinguish the good seed from the bad in its early growth. The danger of uprooting the wrong growth in a freshly sown field is high. Letting time lapse, waiting for the mature growth that signals harvest time, will avoid this danger. Because this parable teaches us about the kingdom of heaven, think about the mercy of God this story represents. How many of us have started out in life looking more like bad seed than good? Repentance and conversion made all the difference. Likewise, how many have started out looking like good seed but never bore good fruit? It takes a long time to know who we are. The great gift of time God gives to the world is to allow as many of us as possible an opportunity to be mature wheat. At St. Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow about His promise [to return] as some count slowness, but He is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). In the meantime, we should not be shocked by the presence of evil in the world. We are assured of a future just judgment on it. Our work now is to pray and work for repentance and conversion, which leads us to the other two parables.
Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven as being like a mustard seed, tiny as it goes into the ground, but, in time, becoming “the largest of plants.” Here He gives us a picture of the Church, inauspicious at the beginning (only Twleve men) but growing to become universal. His reference to “birds of the sky” coming to rest in the mustard plant’s branches is not just nature talk. In the Old Testament, large empires, including Israel, were often described as great trees (Ezek 31:1-13; 17:22-24; Dan 4:12). There, “birds” represented the Gentiles. So, Jesus is describing a Church that will need time to grow from a coterie of Jewish disciples into a Church that would someday be home to Gentiles, as well as Jews, all over the world.
Finally, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to the yeast a woman uses in baking bread. It is small and hidden as it goes into the dough, but, in time, it has an effect on the whole batch, causing it to greatly increase in size and making it ready to bake. This helps us understand how the work of the Church in the salvation of the world is often hidden, unseen. Do we have the patience to wait for its ultimate effect?
We can’t miss the emphasis in these parables on time and on the danger of making judgments based on appearance, before the proper amount of time has passed. What a wonderful corrective for people like us, who live in a culture that has nearly declared war on time. Our technology has almost made an enemy out of time—fast is good, instant is better. We need to let these parables sink in and renew our minds about time, about avoiding premature judgment, about letting God work out His plan of salvation for the world in His own time. When we do this, we are better prepared to understand our other readings today.
Possible response: Lord, I confess that waiting for Your work to unfold is often hard for me. Please grant me patience.
First Reading (Read Wisdom 12:13, 16-19)
Here we have a beautiful description of why God is not in a hurry. He takes His time with His Creation, including His judgment on it, because He is kind: “…though You are the master of might, You judge with clemency, and with much lenience You govern us.” God’s perfect justice makes Him perfectly patient. As noted in St. Peter’s epistle, God’s “slowness” comes from His desire that all men repent and be saved. We see that here in this reading, too: “And You taught Your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind; and You gave Your children good ground for hope that You would permit repentance for their sins.” Instant judgment of others (with the battle cry of “Let’s clear the field now!”) leaves little room for the kindness and mercy of God.
Possible response: Father, help me learn from Your kindness to be kind to others, especially when I only care about being right, not kind.
Psalm (Read Ps 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16)
It should not surprise us that our psalm response today is, “LORD, You are good and forgiving.” The psalmist extols the kindness of God and so counts on the Him “to attend to the sound of my pleading.” Interestingly, the psalmist prophetically declares, “All the nations You have made shall come and worship You, O Lord, and glorify Your Name.” This is the very picture of a Church comprising “all the nations” that Jesus gave us in the parable of the mustard seed. The psalmist shows us that God’s patience and slowness to anger should lead us to prayer for help when we really need it: “Turn toward me, and have pity on me; give Your strength to Your servant.” A merciful God is eager to do this, as we shall see in our next reading.
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a prayerful response to all the lectionary readings. Read it again as your own response to God’s Word.
Second Reading (Read Rom 8:26-27)
Can there be, anywhere, a more powerful statement of God’s kind mercy toward His people than what St. Paul writes here? Not only can we pray to God in our time of need, as the psalmist teaches us, but St. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit “comes to the aid of our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought.” The Spirit prays “for the holy ones according to God’s will.” God invites us to prayer and then, by His Spirit, enables us to pray according to His will. What a beautiful description of His tender care of the “field” of the Church! He is like the Good Farmer, looking after the welfare of every tender shoot that springs up from the good seed He has sown. No wonder God is not afraid of time. St. Paul helps us see that God Himself is bringing His harvest to maturity, working in the hidden, unseen chambers of our hearts to unleash prayers that will save the world. What a sublime subversion!
Possible response: Holy Spirit, thank You for your prayers in me, wiser than my own.
Gayle Somers is a member of St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Phoenix and has been writing and leading parish Bible studies since 1996. She is the author of three bible studies, Galatians: A New Kind of Freedom Defended (Basilica Press), Genesis: God and His Creation and Genesis: God and His Family (Emmaus Road Publishing). Gayle and her husband Gary reside in Phoenix and have three grown children.