16th Sunday in Ordinary Time A. – July 23, 2023

 

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time A. – July 23, 2023

Wisdom 12: 13, 16-19; Romans 8: 26-27; Matthew 13: 24-43

 

Theme: The Final Judgment is True; God Gives Us a Second Chance to Repent

 

Since last Sunday, we have been reading ch. 13 of Matthew’s Gospel, the “Mystery Sermon.” This is a collection of Jesus’ seven parables about the kingdom of heaven. Last Sunday we heard the first parable, known as the Parable of the Sower. Today, we read three more (the parables of the Weeds, Mustard Seed, and Yeast), and next Sunday, we will hear the last three (the parables of the Hidden Treasure, Pearl, and the Net).

Parables are riddles that take the form of fictional stories designed to engage the audience in active thought. In most of them, though not all, Jesus commences with a phrase like “The kingdom of heaven is like…” These comparisons are used to illustrate the kingdom of heaven. Here the “kingdom of heaven” should not be understood as the kingdom consummated in the world to come but rather as an anticipated heavenly life that Christians live here on Earth. To better understand today’s parables, we should recall last Sunday’s parable and the lesson it represents.  

The parable of the Sower teaches us that God expects us to prepare our hearts and transform them from the “path”, “rocky ground”, and “soil with thorns” to “rich soil” so that when we hear or read his Word that we bear as much fruit as we can. First, to transform our heart from the “path” to “rich soil”, we need to eradicate our lack of understanding of the Scriptures. To do that, we should love the Bible, allot enough time for God in prayer and Church ministries, and participate in the Weekly Bible Study on Sunday’s Gospels with me that will start soon in our Church. Second, to transform our hearts from the “rocky ground” to “rich soil”, we are called to not fear the tribulations, mockery, criticism, and persecution that we face in our mission as Jesus’ disciples. Jesus exhorts us to not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul (Matthew 10: 26-33) (see my homily of Sunday, June 25th). Third, to transform our hearts from “soil with thorns” to “rich soil”, we need to accept our daily sufferings with courage, faith, and hope. The suffering that is not accepted positively causes worries, anxieties, and the lure of riches, which become like thorns that choke the Word of God in our hearts. To fix this problem, we should know that sufferings are part of our Christian lives and accept them with courage, faith, and hope. This parable of the Sower teaches us that we should always strive to be “rich soil” that bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.

In the three parables of today, Jesus answers some questions that people at his time (even today) asked. These questions include, why does God allow evil doers to live alongside good people? Where do evil people come from? Why does God’s kingdom apparently look small compared to that of the devil? Are the end of time, final judgment, hell, and heaven true or not?

Jesus tells the parable of the weeds among the wheat to answer the questions of who is responsible for evil and why God allows evildoers to live alongside the righteous. Matthew gives an allegorical interpretation of this parable in vv. 36-43. The good seeds are the citizens of the heavenly kingdom and Jesus is the one who sows them during the day. The Weeds represent the children of evil who are sown by the enemy, the Devil, at night. The wheat also stands for everyone who follows the way of God, while the weed is the one who does not yet follow the way of God. Both plants grow together indistinguishably in the field, which is the world. The harvest is the time of the last judgment when the harvesters, angels, will collect the children of evil who bear bad fruits and throw them into the fiery furnace. Then the righteous who bear good fruits will shine like the sun in the heavenly kingdom.

We may agree with the servants of this parable who suggest pulling the weeds up and letting the good ones grow up without a problem. As a matter of fact, the weeds are bad and were sown by the enemy. So, there is no reason to let them grow alongside good plants. However, the master does not agree to uproot the weeds. He allows both good and bad plants to grow together until harvest.

This parable teaches us several lessons. First, the parable says that the master allows wheat and weeds to grow together in the same field until harvest time. This means, there are both good and evil people (sinners) living together indistinguishably in the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We should not be surprised and scandalized when we see evildoers within the Church, which is the visible Body of Christ. Here Matthew teaches us that each local Church (like our parish, Our Lady Star of the Sea) is still the manifestation of the kingdom of God regardless of the presence of some members and leaders who may not be “good Christians” yet. We should not leave the Church or abandon our faith because of the sins and failings of its members and leaders.

Second, God gives a second chance to sinners to repent. While we may wish that God remove evil people from where we live, Jesus teaches us that God does not do so because he gives them a second chance to repent. We should not think of just two categories of people: good and evil, insofar as no person is entirely good, and neither is anyone entirely evil. This means, you and I become “weeds” when we sin, and God does not uproot us right away. Rather, he gives us a second chance. Therefore, in our turn, we should give a second chance to those who are like “weeds” to us. Let us be merciful to them as God is merciful to us.

Third, judging others is not our business. In our parable, the servants want the master to allow them to pull up the bad plants. Sometimes we do the same. We judge and condemn those who sin against us. Here Jesus teaches us that God makes the final judgment, not us.

Fourth, the final judgment at the end of time to determine who goes to hell and who goes to heaven is a reality. The parable mentions the harvest time which stands for the final judgment at the end of time. The angels “will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (vv. 41-43). Here we learn that at the end of time, we will be judged based on the deeds that we do in this world. The eternal condemnation in the fiery furnace of hell for the evildoers is real, and the eternal salvation in the glory of the heavenly kingdom for the righteous is real as well. So, we should not think that our lives end here in this world when we die. We must then take advantage of the second chance God gives us and repent now as we do not know when the end of time comes.

After the parable of the weeds among the wheat, Jesus tells us two more parables: the parables of the mustard seed and yeast. He says that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed (this “smallest of all the seeds”) that, after sown in a field and when full-grown, becomes a large bush (“the largest of plants”). The birds of the sky come and make their dwelling in its branches. Again, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven with the yeast that is mixed with three measures of wheat flour and leavens the dough. Note that in these two parables, Jesus uses hyperbole because the mustard seed is not the smallest of all the seeds and does not become the largest of plants. Also, three measures of wheat flour likely would have amounted to forty to sixty pounds of flour. And when leavened, it would create an enormous amount of bread. Jesus employs hyperbole in these two parables to mean that the heavenly kingdom starts very small but will grow beyond imagining. This illustrates how he commenced his Church; it was very small. Over time, this Church, although all persecutions and sins committed by its leaders and members in the course of history, is growing beyond imagination.

Our local Church, Our Lady Star of the Sea, is the manifestation of the heavenly kingdom that Jesus compares with a mustard seed. It is “small” based on the number of parishioners. we are called to make it grow and become a “large bush”, not only by inviting more members to join us (and the old members to come back) but also by strengthening our relationships with God and with one another. Our parish, Our Lady Star of the Sea, is also compared with yeast mixed with flour which represents all of us. The yeast leavens us so that we become an enormous amount of “spiritual bread” to feed the people of God in our community, neighborhoods, and families.

Through these three parables, we learned that good people live alongside evil ones in our societies and Churches. God is a merciful Father; he gives us a second chance to repent. In turn, we are called to give a second chance to those who sin against us. The final judgment, eternal condemnation in hell, and eternal salvation in heaven are not fake news but realities. At the end of time, we will be judged based on our deeds. Let us repent now. Our repentance will be effective if we commit ourselves to work for the growth of our church, Our Lady Star of the Sea, which is the manifestation of the heavenly kingdom in our local area.  Our Church is like a mustard seed that you and I are called to make become a “large bush” where the people in our neighborhoods, families, and all of us come and make our dwelling in its “branches”.  We will be able to do that only when we let ourselves be leavened and become the “spiritual bread” to feed the people around us.

May this liturgy of the Mass enable us to continue building the kingdom of heaven wherever we live. Amen.  

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

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