The 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Wisdom 12:13,16-19  +  Romans 8:26-27  +  Matthew 13:24-43

Very likely, at some point you’ve asked a priest to pray for you or one of your intentions.  Whenever a priest is asked this, as he often is, he generally fulfills that request in one of a few ways.

The most powerful prayer that a priest can offer, of course, is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Because Holy Mass is central to our lives as Catholics, there’s a formal schedule for Mass intentions that’s organized in the parish office weeks ahead of time.

However, if there’s a more immediate need for prayer, the priest might pray for the requested intention in one of three other ways.

The first is that the priest might, just as you might if someone asked you to pray for them, take up his rosary beads and offer that day’s rosary for the requested intention.

The second is that the priest might, just as you might, pray for the intention during a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament.  Though Eucharistic Adoration is not as central to our lives as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Adoration flows directly from Holy Mass.  Adoration is one of the fruits of Holy Mass.

The third way that the priest might pray for a requested intention is during one of the hours of the Divine Office, otherwise known as the breviary.  Though the Divine Office is not as well-known as the Rosary, the Divine Office is a more important obligation in a priest’s life than the Rosary, because both at his ordination as a deacon, and then again at his ordination to the Priesthood, the man being ordained promises before the bishop to pray the Divine Office each day for the People of God.

+     +     +

This past Tuesday morning, I was praying the Divine Office, and one of the Scripture passages in that particular hour of the breviary was taken from Chapter 26 of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.  The prophet proclaims:  “Trust in the Lord forever!  For the Lord is an eternal Rock” [Isaiah 26:4].  Reflecting on this verse can help us appreciate Jesus’ parable about the weeds and the wheat.

“For the Lord is an eternal Rock.”  Is this statement from the Bible meant to be taken literally?  Most of us, it’s fair to say, would not understand that statement from Isaiah literally, but instead as a metaphor.  But if we don’t take this statement literally, what else in the Bible do we not have to take literally?  Are the first two chapters of Genesis meant to be taken literally?  Is Jesus’ discourse about the Bread of Life in John 6 to be taken literally?  Is the Gospel account of Jesus’ Resurrection to be taken literally?

Interpreting Sacred Scripture individually results in a mass (and a mess) of contradictory interpretations.  That’s one reason why Jesus founded a Church that has within it a teaching authority:  that is, with the right and the responsibility to interpret Scripture definitively when a given passage touches upon a key teaching of the Catholic Faith.

One of the Church’s most important teachings about interpreting Sacred Scripture is that a passage of Scripture can have several different meanings at the same time.  When a given passage has multiple meanings, they enrich our understanding and our love for God.

The Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat in this Sunday’s Gospel Reading offers us an example of a Scripture passage with several different meanings.

The literal meaning of the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat is explained by Jesus Himself at the end of this Sunday’s Gospel Reading.  Explaining the first part of the parable, He sets the stage and describes the main characters:  “‘He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom.  The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil.’”

Jesus’ descriptions of this stage and these main characters in the first part of the parable are just as applicable to the Holy Land in the first century as they are to the United States in the twenty-first century.  This first part of the parable is playing out today as it did all around Jesus:  there are weeds and wheat; sinners and saints all mingling upon the same stage.

But the last part of the parable shifts our focus far into the future.  “‘The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.  Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. … Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.’”

In this last part of the parable, Jesus is describing the Final Judgement at the end of time.  Many Scripture passages focus upon what the Church calls the “Last Things”:  Heaven and hell, death and judgement.[1]  This last part of the parable reminds us that our actions upon the stage of this world have not only worldly consequences, but also eternal consequences.

So the literal meaning of the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat, explained by Jesus at the end of the Gospel Reading, has a two-fold focus.  It focuses first on the present, when the weeds and the wheat grow together in the world.  It focuses second on the end of time, when Christ will separate the wheat from the weeds in the Final Judgement.

However, in addition to this two-fold literal meaning of the parable, there’s also an interpretation of this parable that bears another meaning.  This other meaning flows from what the Church’s Tradition calls the “moral sense of Scripture”.

The literal meaning of the parable that Jesus explains clearly connects to a sense of morality.  But while the literal sense of this parable distinguishes between “the children of the kingdom” and “the children of the evil one”, the other meaning of the parable looks into the soul of an individual Christian, and the moral life of that Christian.

This other meaning of the parable looks more closely at the moral life of an individual, and considers that within that Christian’s soul, there are both weeds and wheat.  In other words, “the children of the kingdom” are not without weeds in their souls (excepting Our Blessed Mother).  At the same time, it’s entirely possible that one of “the children of the evil one” could bear the wheat of good works in his soul, at least on the natural level.

Each Christian is responsible for the world of his soul.  While on the literal level of the parable “the end of the age” is the end of time, when the Last Judgment will take place, on the moral level “the end of the age” is the moment of death.  God enacts a particular judgement of the individual at the moment of that person’s death, sending that person’s soul either to everlasting punishment, or towards everlasting salvation.  Until the moment of that person’s death, throughout the course of that person’s earthly days, God shows the patience of the householder in the parable, allowing the free will of the individual to reign.  During the course of that person’s earthly days, it is that person who bears responsibility for tending to the field of the soul.  Building upon the graces of one’s Baptism into Christ, Jesus in the Sacrament of Confession helps us tend to the field of our soul so that, at the hour of our death, He will call us to join “the righteous” who “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”


[1] This perspective in which a Scripture passage focuses upon the Last Things is technically called the “anagogical sense of Scripture”.  See the Catechism of the Catholic Church 115-117.