• Wis 12:13, 16-19
• Ps 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
• Rom 8:26-27
• Mt 13:24-43
What is the Kingdom of God? How does it come about? And how will it grow?
These are some of the questions addressed in the parables of Jesus, including the seven parables found in Matthew 13. As we saw last week, these parables are not simply stories with a moral, nor are they theological tracts or even pithy catechetical lessons. Parables are not, writes Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis in Fire of Mercy, Heart of the World (Ignatius Press, 2003), “a test of human intelligence that functions like riddles. Rather they are verbal strategies of grace that test the willingness of the human heart to surrender to, and be enfolded by, the always surprising generosity of Wisdom.”
Leiva-Merikakis describes a parable, strikingly, as “a coded letter left by a Lover” (p 192). He points out that the original Greek renditions of the parables are imbued with a beautiful musicality, adding even more meaning to Jesus’ exhortation: “He who has ears, let him hear” (Mt 13:9). God’s love for mankind is such that the eternal Word uses words of beauty to redeem our souls and transform our hearts.
Today’s Gospel reading contains three of the seven parables: the parables of the weeds among the wheat, the mustard seed, and the yeast (or leaven). Like the parable of the sower and seeds heard last week, all three express something about the growth of the Kingdom and how God’s word brings about that mysterious—and often unseen—growth.
Like the parable of the sower and the seeds, the parable of the weeds among the wheat has an agricultural setting. However, the parable is unique to Matthew’s Gospel and does not appear in the other Gospels. The focus is less on the response of the soil to the sower’s seeds and more on the mystery of evil and how it grows alongside what the Son of Man has planted in the field of the world. In his explanation of the parable to the disciples, Jesus draws a stark contrast between the children of the kingdom and the children of the evil one. Those who hear the word of God and reject it are the children of Satan. Having been offered light, they choose darkness (cf., Jn 1:9-11; 3:19-20).
But, as Saint Augustine noted, what is currently wheat can become a weed, and what is a weed can still become wheat “and no one knows what they will be tomorrow.” It is right to lament the sins committed by sons and daughters of the Church. But we shouldn’t be blind to our own weaknesses, nor to the ravenous appetite of the devil, who “is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). Mindful of our failings, as the Apostle Paul exhorts the Romans in today’s epistle, we must trust in the Holy Spirit, who “comes to the aid of our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought.”
The parable of the mustard seed, although short, is memorable in its imagery, especially in the comparison between the largeness of the bush (growing to ten feet in height) and the smallness of the seed. Its central meaning is that the works of God often begin in small ways and are usually ignored or missed by the world. The temptation for the children of the Kingdom is to become impatient, forgetting that this tree has now been growing for thousands of years, and will continue to grow until the end of time.
Even shorter is the parable of the yeast, or leaven. From what seems to be of little consequence comes a super abundance, a theme echoing the reality of the Incarnation and the stunning truth of the empty tomb. It is Christ, the lover of mankind, who is the leaven. And it is through his death and Resurrection and by his Body and Blood that we are leavened—transformed and transferred into the always growing kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13).
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the July 20, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)