July 20, 2014
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
24 He [Jesus] proposed another parable to them. "The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. 26 When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. 27 The slaves of the householder came to him and said, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?' 28 He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' His slaves said to him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' 29 He replied, 'No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, "First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn."'"
31 He proposed another parable to them. "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. 32 It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'"
33 He spoke to them another parable. "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened." 34 All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, 35 to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables; I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation (of the world)."
36 Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field." 37 He said in reply, "He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, 38 the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 Just as weeds are collected and burned (up) with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.
The gospel text for this Sunday follows the text from last Sunday’s gospel. Last week the first line described Jesus leaving the house and going down by the sea. After Jesus addressed the crowd that had gathered, he dismissed them and returned to the house. (Matthew 13:36) Like the parable of last week, the first two parables of the text for today are about the sowing of seeds. This text concludes with the same admonition which concluded the parable of last week: “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” (Matthew 13:9 and 43b) The repetition of the line indicates its importance. While there are a number of elements that unite the two passages, the last short parable in today’s text stands out because of its contrast from the other parables. It is not about seeds or farming, but about an ordinary woman doing one of the most ordinary and common kitchen tasks: making bread. In the male-dominated culture in which Jesus lived, Jesus’ effort to include an example that every woman of the day would understand speaks its own message of the Kingdom.
The contemporary reader might not notice the suggestion in the first parable that an enemy has come in the night and sown weeds in the midst of the wheat (Matthew 13:25). Again, when one considers the culture of the day, this detail becomes very important to the parable. In Jesus’ day, the family into which people were born determined their status and their relationship to the larger community. One’s family determined who the allies were and who the enemies were. Bonds of loyalty spanned generations. Likewise, animosity and rivalry between families was part of the culture of the day. Making one’s adversary appear to be foolish was part of the entertainment of the community. The possibility that an enemy might try to embarrass a farmer by deliberately sowing weeds in another’s field was not just hypothetical. One’s neighbors would be amused by the farmer’s situation and his enemy’s ability to get the best of him. The farmer who did not try to rectify or retaliate in some fashion would appear even more foolish in the eyes of his neighbors. But at the end of the parable, the farmer who might have at first appeared foolish turned out to be the wiser. The weeds became added fuel for his fire, and his wheat proved to be strong enough to coexist with the weeds and still produce a good harvest. The parable also points to Jesus himself, who, in his passion, is strong enough to endure the wickedness of others without needing to lash out in defense, even though he is capable of such action.
All three of the parables point to a future time when the kingdom of heaven will come to completion. The parables of the mustard seed and the yeast especially emphasize the insignificant beginning of the kingdom and the unfolding of the kingdom that is at first barely perceptible.
The parables that Jesus tells in this text reveal a God who is imperceptibly at work in ordinary human ways, a God who at the same time is more powerful than any outside effort to thwart God’s intentions. This God’s kingdom is unfolding in the lives of farmers, women and even Gentiles. (A common symbol for Gentiles was birds that came to nest in the branches of the mustard bush.)
This Sunday a short form of the gospel text can be used which would only include the first parable (Matt 13:24-30). This option would strengthen a connection to the first reading (Wisdom 12:13, 16-19), but would eliminate the repetition of the line “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” It also does not include the parable using a woman’s role of making bread.
1. Do you know people who enjoy playing practical jokes on others? To what extent will they go to set up their joke?
2. What do you think the ordinary peasants of the day were thinking as they heard Jesus tell these parables? How might that be different from the early Christians who chose to record and retell these parables by including them as part of the gospel text? Lastly, how is that different from what we might hear as we listen to these parables today?
3. Who, in our society, might be symbolized by “weeds growing in the midst of the wheat”?
4. Who today speaks with the wisdom of the farmer who is willing to let the weeds grow with the wheat? Does he still look foolish in the eyes of others?
5. What aspects of your life make you look or feel foolish? How might God be using those things to teach you something you need to understand?
6. Do you ever feel like the kingdom of God is unfolding too slowly?
7. Why would Jesus tell parables about the kingdom of God that focused on the experience of the most common of people, including women?
8. Which of the parables in the gospel text speaks most strongly to you?
9. Do you have ears that long to hear and eyes that long to see?
Reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.
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A Spanish translation of the reflection questions is made possible by Fernando Alessandrini.
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