Tuesday, July 18, 2017

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

One of the beauties of Ordinary Time is the opportunity to “play the long game” when it comes understanding Jesus and his teachings.  We literally journey with Jesus and the Apostles during his mission to spread the Word, and because many of our readings pick up where we left off the previous week, we have an opportunity to learn as we go, much like the Apostles themselves.

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalm: 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43 (OR Matthew 13:24-30)

Our first reading comes from the Book of Wisdom.  This book, coming about 50 years before Christ (most likely from the Jewish Community of Alexandria) served, like most of the wisdom books, as a kind of “catechism” for the faithful.  Our passage this week reminds us that God is both mighty and benevolent.  In fact, the text goes to great lengths to say that this might comes from his benevolence.  Not only has God taught us what is good (through The Law), he gives us the opportunity to repent… to change our ways least we be judged by our sins.  The joy at this opportunity for forgiveness is heard in our Psalm as we sing, “Lord, you are good and forgiving.”

This idea of giving us time to repent is also reflected in our Gospel from Matthew.  Picking up where we left off last Sunday (with Jesus teaching us about parables), Jesus tells us the parable of the Weeds Among The Wheat.  In a story that is unique to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus continues with the themes presented in the parable of the sower and adds another dimension to the story.  Here an enemy has sown weeds among the freshly planted wheat.  When the master’s slaves see the weeds growing among the wheat, they ask if they should pull them out, but the master warns them that by doing so, they could uproot the wheat as well.  Instead, he instructs them to let the weeds grow, and come harvest they can separate the wheat from the weeds, gathering the wheat into his barn, and burning the weeds.  In the longer version of this week’s gospel, Jesus continues with the parable of the mustard seed, and the parable of the yeast.  Then again like last week’s gospel, we are reminded why Jesus has chosen to teach using parables, and takes this opportunity to explain the parable of the weeds to his disciples (and us).

Jesus’ explanation of the parable is straight forward enough… even we can follow… the weeds are children of evil and are sent to be burned, while the wheat is gathered into God’s kingdom.  What Jesus doesn’t explain, however, is why they wait until the harvest to separate the good from the bad… or does he?  The other two parables give us the explanation.  The parable of the mustard seed shows us that the least among us can be the greatest, while the parable of the yeast shows us that the yeast can cause the entire loaf to rise.  In other words, when good flourishes, it can be an example to others.  As reflected in our passage from the Book of Wisdom, God is merciful, and gives us every opportunity for repentance… but only until the harvest. 

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Picking up near where we left off last week (that through the Spirit we are redeemed), this week’s passage, though short, gives us a lot to think about.  According to the text, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness, but we don’t know how to pray as we ought?”  Then the text tells us “the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones…”  In short, the Spirit knows our needs, even though we may not know them ourselves, and further, the Spirit knows our hearts.

Final thoughts:
One of the beauties of the parables is that it allows us to look at a situation from “outside the box” or from “beyond the fourth wall.”  We’re observers as the story unfolds before us.  From that position of being outside the narrative we can gain insight into the lessons of the narrative.  Jesus was a master storyteller, using his wit and wisdom to teach us the ways of the Father in a way that just about anyone can understand.  But as we see toward the end of this week’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples are still confused, asking Jesus to explain the parable.  Why is that?  Whether or not the disciples were actually confused is unimportant.  Here Matthew is using a literary device so that his audience (us) won’t be confused.  The disciples in Matthew’s story (and all the Gospels) are meant to put us in the narrative… to give us a seat next to Jesus as he teaches.  But Matthew also knows that we must also be able to understand the stories so that we can pick them up and spread them to others.  We must spread the Gospel.

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