16th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 23rd July 2017

God sows good seed in us

First Reading

Wisdom 12:13,16-19

There is no god, other than you, who cares for every thing,
to whom you might have to prove that you never judged unjustly;
Your justice has its source in strength,
your sovereignty over all makes you lenient to all.
You show your strength when your sovereign power is questioned
and you expose the insolence of those who know it;
but, disposing of such strength, you are mild in judgement,
you govern us with great lenience,
for you have only to will, and your power is there.
By acting thus you have taught a lesson to your people
how the virtuous man must be kindly to his fellow men,
and you have given your sons the good hope
that after sin you will grant repentance.

Second Reading

Romans 8:26-27

The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God.

Gospel Reading

Matthew 13:24-43
Let them both grow till the harvest

Jesus put another parable before the crowds: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, the darnel appeared as well. The owner’s servants went to him and said, “Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?” “Some enemy has done this” he answered. And the servants said, “Do you want us to go and weed it out?” But he said, “No, because when you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.”’

He put another parable before them: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches.’

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through.’

In all this Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed, he would never speak to them except in parables. This was to fulfil the prophecy:
I will speak to you in parables and expound things hidden since the foundation of the world.

Then, leaving the crowds, he went to the house; and his disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain the parable about the darnel in the field to us.’ He said in reply, ‘The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels. Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

Scripture readings – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com

REFLECTION

“God sows good seed in us”

by Artur Chejnowski

The day comes each year when farmers go out into their fields. They start sowing their seed in the hope of abundant yields later on in the year. But before their hope can be rewarded, many days of hard work will lie ahead, be that work on days of warmth and sun, be that work on days of cold and rain.

They will visit their fields, keeping an eye on the growth of the future harvest so that their crops can grow free of pests, and free from weeds. All this effort, patience and dedication will finally get its reward. What is there that gives more satisfaction and joy than the fruit of our labours and the simple work of our own hands?

The farmer out in his field is an image of Christian life. On the day of our baptism, God sows good seed in us. The kingdom of God begins to grow in us. Through prayer and the nourishment of Holy Communion, we take care of God’s seed. At first, the fruits of that sowing of God’s seed in us are small, but during the course of our life, the visible results grow larger and ever more lush.

We notice, however, that aside from what the Son of Man has planted in our hearts, weeds sometimes appear. We can rightly ask,

“Lord, did you sow good seed in your field?

So from where do these weeds come?”

God’s reply tells us that those who are against Him and against our salvation have done this. Let us not despair! Let us not give up!

Weeds are an annoyance but they do not destroy good grain. In this parable, weeds are nothing else but sin. God’s ever available grace and mercy are greater than any such evil and sin.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus encourages us to live and work patiently. When the farmer’s helpers say

“Do you want us to go now and gather in the harvest?”

We hear the answer.

“No, you should not gather the weeds together with the crop. Let the two grow until harvest time.”

This indicates to us that the development of good occurs slowly, in the very midst of human weakness. We can therefore best fight against evil by protecting and cultivating goodness which is indicated by the crop in the parable. The fruits of this work have to happen patiently. The change of life will not happen overnight, just as in the weeks following sowing of the seed, we shall not be able to harvest the crop, but must wait until harvest time.

Encouraged by the parable of the seed in today’s Gospel, we entrust our hearts to God! Let us pray for the God’s presence in our lives and in our spiritual growth, in patience, perseverance and wisdom.

LECTIO DIVINA

by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB

Introduction to Lectio Divine

Evil may not seem very obvious to us, but the experience of evil is such an everyday occurrence that it would be foolish to deny it or to think that we are free from its power. We come up against evil just like everybody else – we know that only too well! If we want to see what evil looks like and how it works, we do not have far to go. We need only look at ourselves, at our hearts and our hands, and there we will see evil before us and in us. What we tend to question in relation to evil is our responsibility. We are so inclined to exonerate ourselves that often we put the blame on someone else, beginning always with those closest to us. Jesus teaches us today to live with evil without letting it grow in us.

Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

Jesus continues to speak of the kingdom in parables. To the parable of the seed (and the commentary) Jesus now adds three other parables. They differ in form and content, but they illustrate the ways in which God acts, ways that we cannot fully understand. In his kingdom God allows good and evil to exist and grow, side by side. His presence in the kingdom is both imperceptible and omnipotent, and brings about salvation.

In the first parable, that of the wheat and the darnel, Jesus proclaimed a fundamental rule of the kingdom of God: when the kingdom is preached, not everything that grows is good grain. The evil, which he did not plant, is not uprooted ahead of its time. The good seed has to grow and ripen alongside the bad. The day of justice will come. In the meantime, everything that has been planted is given the chance to grow. The disciple must be able to live with evil, and not become scandalized. God, like the sower, is patient with his field until the seed yields its harvest. The account shows Matthew’s anxiety to respond to a new situation in the community: evil is evident among the Christians, the Kingdom of God cannot be identified with the Church that arose after the resurrection. Christians will have to get used to serving God alongside people who do not know God, to seek to do God’s will among people who ignore it. It is the practice of good works, not impatience and intolerance, that makes one a disciple. The disciple’s lot is to grow alongside evil without becoming evil.

The double parable of the mustard seed and the yeast is meant to give hope. It refers to the power to germinate that is in the kingdom. Even though it is barely perceptible, it will eventually give growth. An insignificant seed like the mustard seed, or a small quantity of yeast, can produce unexpected results – a home for the birds of the air or abundant bread. Small beginnings with little promise gradually but inexorably lead to great things. We should not be deceived by appearances. When God and his kingdom are at work, good will surely come.

The decision of Jesus to speak to the people in parables finds a new reason now, quite different from the one given previously (cf. 13, 10-17): the parable suggests rather than describes, by disclosing in veiled terms, the way of making public what has remained hidden until the day when it is uncovered by Jesus.

Jesus responds to his disciples’ request and explains immediately the parable of the darnel, in order to focus attention on the future. It is not just that we must live with evil now, while striving to grow in goodness, but that goodness itself is not definitive until the Son of Man decides in his own time. Until the day of the harvest comes, the good may cease to be good and evil likewise. The community must await the final decision. It is not yet saved, though it can live in hope of being saved if it remains faithful in the midst of infidelity.

Meditate: apply what the text says to life

In the parable of the wheat and the darnel, Jesus is speaking about the mysterious presence of evil in our world, but he does so in a manner that is not completely clear.  He wants especially to address our anxiety in the face of the power and threat of evil. Instead of teaching us about the mystery of evil, Jesus seeks to convince us of God’s goodness and patience in dealing with evil people. He does not want us to be resigned to the existence of evil around us, and he does not want us to feel alone in the face of evil.  He does not deny the reality of evil nor seek to play down its power, but he does not want us to be too worried or fearful. He wants us to love God more than we fear evil or the absence of God.

Jesus seeks to share with us two convictions: evil is real, as real as the world and as man. With Jesus we must believe in a world created by God, and man made in the image and likeness of God. Creation is the field in which God has sown the seed. It is of little help discussing the origin of evil, when the important thing is to escape from its power.

But this is not all.  Jesus teaches that we must believe especially in a God who is concerned about the presence of evil in his world and in men, a God who delays his intervention out of respect for the good that exists alongside the evil.  Like the owner of the field, God does not sow seeds of evil. If he tolerates evil, it is in order not to damage the good that is planted but is still weak and struggling to grow. He wants the good, like the wheat, to ripen for the day of the harvest. In the meantime, good must live alongside evil but always without becoming evil. It is the destiny of good to co-exist with evil, never despairing of its own power and force.

The God that Jesus proclaims is a God who permits good and evil to exist and grow together. It is not easy to understand this decision of God. At times the presence of evil is so scandalous and provocative that it makes people doubt the existence of God. We cannot understand why he does not do something when evil seems to triumph over good. In relating the parable of the wheat and the darnel, Jesus does not intend to contradict our experience, nor to minimize the pain we suffer when we discover evil in our own lives. He knows well that when he teaches, not everything that grows is good grain. But he is certain that the day of reckoning will come, when justice will be done and good will finally triumph. In the meantime, opportunity is given to everything that is growing – for the good, the opportunity to remain good, and for the evil the opportunity to be converted and change.

The disciple must know how to live with evil without pact or compromise. He will have to learn to respond to God while living among people who do not know God, and seek to do God’s will when others ignore it. Losing patience with bad people does not make a disciple good. Losing hope in God just because evil still exists means doubting his will to conquer evil one day forever.

We should learn something from God’s patience. Just as the farmer does not want to cut the grain when it has just taken root, God continues to hope, because he does not want to damage the good that is struggling to survive. God’s patience is not weakness but strength, and especially confidence in himself and in the power of good. He knows that evil will not survive and so he can allow it to grow for a while. Until the day of harvest comes, there is still the possibility that the good will cease to be good, and that the wicked will be converted. The Christian should know that God has already taken the decision to overcome the evil that exists in his heart and around him.  He should also know that God hopes that those who are still evil, or living in the midst of evil, will come to know him and be saved.

Knowing that evil will not outlive God means recognising God’s power and, at the same time, acknowledging that we will not be prey to evil forever, provided God is our supreme good, desired or already possessed. Anyone who could lose God is not yet saved, but can live with the assurance of salvation. Seeing evil before our eyes or in our hearts can be an imperfect but effective way of having God present in our lives, even if our lives are not yet completely good. We can desire to keep him always present in our hearts.

Precisely because we realize that God is patient even though the field still contains evil, we should try to be more understanding and less demanding of those around us who are not as good as they would like to be, or maybe not as good as we are.  It is true that God’s patience with the evil that seems to triumph tests our understanding and the fidelity we owe him.  We think it would be nice if God destroyed all who do us harm, and maybe we have sometimes asked him to do so! Maybe we feel a bit cheated when he does not do so. But God has his reasons. He wants to give the wicked an opportunity to change, as he has done many times with us. He delays his intervention because he wants the wicked to be converted and evil to disappear.

Anyone who wants to be better, and not just good, must have patience with himself and with the evil he discovers in his heart, and especially he must be patient with the evil that triumphs around him.  Like the farmer in the parable, and like Jesus in his lifetime, the Christian knows that he must wait for the triumph of good. He is not deceived by the apparent triumph of evil. He is certain that one day God will come, as the day of harvest comes, and he will suppress evil once and for all.  The knowledge that evil has already been condemned obliges the Christian to struggle to improve, to commit himself to leaving a better world to others, and never to despair. Anyone who is afraid that evil will get the better of him does not trust in God or in the power of his goodness.

And that would be bad indeed! God can do nothing with those who do not trust in his goodness or who cannot accept his patience with the wicked.  Having a patient God has its consequences – we must accept them and accept him as he is.  If we believe in him we can accept ourselves, for none of us is completely good, and we can accept the world as it is. This is indeed a great benefit.

PRAYER

Be gracious, Lord, to us who serve you,
and in your kindness increase your gifts of grace within us:
so that, fervent in faith, hope and love,
we may be ever on the watch
and persevere in doing what you command.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

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GodSowsGoodSeedInUs