The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Wisdom 12:13,16-19 + Romans 8:26-27 + Matthew 13:24-43
“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
CCC 543-550: the Kingdom of God
CCC 309-314: God’s goodness and the scandal of evil
CCC 825, 827: weeds and seed of Gospel in everyone and in the Church
CCC 1425-1429: need for ongoing conversion
CCC 2630: prayer of petition voiced profoundly by the Holy Spirit
One day a sidewalk preacher proclaimed the Good News to passersby. Most kept walking. One fellow, however, listened to him preach for a few minutes. At a strategic moment, the preacher paused and then said, “Brother, why don’t you join us Sunday at my church?” The fellow scowled and growled, “Not a chance: your church is full of hypocrites.” The preacher replied, “Don’t worry yourself about that. We can always make room for one more!”
Weeds and wheat are everywhere. Jesus’ first parable in Sunday’s Gospel Reading can help you sort through the weeds and wheat. Like the grain of wheat, this parable can bear much fruit.
Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote one of his three greatest works—On the City of God—on this parable’s theme. St. Augustine shows how complex and messy the world can be as weeds and wheat grow together in the same field.
St. Augustine’s masterpiece is actually a contrast between “the city of God” and “the city of man”. This contrast is similar to the parable’s consideration of the wheat and the weeds. But it’s not that Heaven is the City of God while earth is the City of Man: that would be a contrast that condemns this world in which we live. Nor is the Church the City of God while the state is the City of Man: that would be a contrast that presents the Church as flawless.
In the 21st century, the Church lives in a precarious setting. Not only are foundational moral truths being attacked by Western society. The Church herself is at pains to preach the fullness of Christ’s moral teaching. This difficulty stems in part from her credibility being diminished by the scandalous actions of some of her leaders. Mindful of this two-fold attack—from without and from within—we can consider Jesus’ parable.
We have to start with a question like the one raised by St. Augustine’s masterpiece. Who exactly are the weeds and who are the wheat? At the end of the long form of Sunday’s Gospel Reading, Jesus explains the parable: “the good seed” are “the children of the kingdom”, while the “weeds are the children of the evil one”. But how are we practically to apply this explanation to our own day?
Perhaps another saying from our Lord could help us. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” [Luke 6:42]. In other words, in seeking to apply the parable of the weeds and the wheat to our experiences today, each of us ought first to apply the parable to his or her own soul. After we start with the real weeds in our own souls, we can move on to consider the weeds elsewhere: in one’s family, parish, country, world, and even the Church.
Short of the Blessed Virgin Mary, there is no disciple without weeds in his soul. In your case as in mine, then, the parable first of all describes the tension within the individual Christian’s spiritual life. You are a “child of the kingdom” by the grace of God, beginning on the day of your baptism. Yet you are also a “child of the evil one” by your sins: actions, thoughts, and words, done and left undone.
Between the day of your baptism and the day of your death, you are free to cultivate your spiritual life. You are free to break up the hard soil of your soul through acts of penance and humility. You are free to soak the soil with tears of repentance and the Blood of Christ.
Yet you must also be patient, like the parable’s householder, who is God our Father. For you are free also to sin in this life, allowing weeds to proliferate in your soul. God, in His paternal love, does not force anyone to reform his life.
Jesus’ first parable in Sunday’s Gospel passage lets us focus upon three of the times that God, in His providential and merciful love, judges the human person. The first is when we present ourselves for judgment in Confession, the second is at the hour of our death, and the third is at the Last Judgment.
In his loving judgment, God—if you will—sifts the dead similar to the parable’s description of sifting. This parable highlights the importance of human free will, and its consequences. In the end, however, even more important is God’s free will, by which He offers forgiveness, redemption, and sanctification.
The Parable of the Tares by Domenico Fetti (1589-1623)