“The kingdom of heaven is like…”
Jesus begins each parable saying these ominous words. It is important for us to remember that this mystery that Jesus speaks about — the mystery of the kingdom of heaven — cannot be reduced to just one image. That is why we have four Gospels. It is a mystery so vast and incomprehensible as to require a multiplicity of similes to explore as disciples grapple with what it might mean. My love for my child is like… What words would one use? Unlike proclamations or definitions which can be passively received, teaching through parables requires active participation on the part of the listener. In the parables, answers and insights aren’t doled out in neatly packaged portions; instead, we have to work for them!
The parables of this weekend give us beautiful images of God’s dominion-the wheat and the weeds mixed in a farmer’s crop. Like others used by Jesus, the mustard seed, and the leaven, they give us hints as to what the Kingdom might be like. They speak of a slow, silent growth. Almost in secret, wheat and mustard seeds planted in the ground crack open to allow a sprout of new life to take hold in the soil. And then, they blossom big!
I never liked the end of the story where the wheat and the weeds are separated finally – the wheat: the kingdom people…and the weeds the “people of the lie.” Too clean! The church of St. Matthew was part of a messy era of great persecution. There was violence from the outside and defection from the community on the inside. Jesus’ parable was a great comfort. God would win in the end. The Kingdom would grow despite the confusions, scandals and bloodshed…and even for us, from the tragedy and losses of a global pandemic.
St. Paul in his swan song the Letter to the Romans notes, “GOD HELPS US IN OUR WEAKNESS […] ESPECIALLY WHEN WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO PRAY AS WE OUGHT…” Often instead of asking to be more like God, we ask God to be more like us…thorough, righteous, judgmental and efficient. We do so need to pray, but sometimes our prayer needs some revisions. Maybe we become God’s help for the vulnerabilities of others.
The Gospel is good news! When the Lord of the harvest comes and removes the weeds from my life… will I recognize myself? There is much to let go of. A lot we think is indispensable are just weeds. Others are the higher priority in the Kingdom of God. God knows. Much to consider this week about the images in front of us. The mask over our nose and mouths has become for many a political statement. For the body of Christ, it is a moral one. To protect others about us even in our own house from this very resilient virus, is a “no brainer.” To be wheat – nourishment for others – is our mission statement spoken in every Eucharist. Thanks for the generosity this week of bag lunch making, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Mary’s Food Bank provided food and our parishioners the loving service of those in the streets of this hot Phoenix summer. The kingdom of heaven is like…” What’s it like for you?
A gentle week.
Fr. Michael Weldon, OFM