16th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle A)

Readings:
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalm 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for mankind.  That is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: God is Merciful and Patient
God dispenses justice to both the righteous and the wicked, but even those who defy Him and disobey His commandments can hope for His mercy if they turn to Him in repentance.  In the First Reading, the inspired writer of the Book of Wisdom proclaims the power and goodness of the one and only God who is always righteous and just.  He dispenses His justice with mercy and kindness, and, by His example, God teaches His covenant people that the righteousness He requires of us must be defined by kindness, mercy, and forgiveness.

In today's Psalm, we sing that God is slow to anger and abounding in mercy and kindness.  It is by His patience with humanity that God teaches us that He desires repentance, not vengeance, and the salvation of the people of all nations. 

St. Paul promises in today's Second Reading that the Holy Spirit is ready to intercede for us when we call upon Him for His help.  He will always intercede for us, according to the will of the Father, even when we cannot articulate our need for His intervention.

That God is both merciful and patient is the focus of the three parables about the Kingdom of God in today's Gospel Reading.  In the third great discourse in St. Matthew's Gospel, Jesus teaches seven parables that are called the "Kingdom Parables."  Like the prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus, God's Supreme Prophet, taught in parables.  Using topics of everyday life, Jesus made comparisons to illustrate His teaching points that revealed "the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven."

Jesus teaches that there is no middle ground where He is concerned.  God is just, merciful, and patient, and He does not force us to accept citizenship in the Kingdom of His Son or to accept His gift of eternal salvation.  However, we must all make a choice concerning our eternal destination.  If a person does not choose to become a child in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, he has chosen to be a child of the devil (1 Jn 3:10)!  What choice have you made?  Remember, there is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ (Jn 14:6; Acts 4:12).  You have until you draw your last breath or the time of Christ's glorious return to make your choice, but be aware that your choice will have eternal consequences!

The First Reading Wisdom 12:13, 16-19 ~ God is Merciful
13 For neither is there any god besides you who have the care of all, that you need show you have not unjustly condemned.  [...] 16 For your might is the source of justice; your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all.  17 For you show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved; and in those who know you, you rebuke temerity.  18 But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us; for power, whenever you will, attends you.  19 And you taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind; and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.

This passage proclaims the power and goodness of God who is the one and only God (verse 13).  God's power, however, does not make Him an unjust tyrant.  On the contrary, God is always righteous and just (verses 16-17).  He dispenses His justice with mercy and kindness (verse 18).  By His example, God teaches His covenant people that kindness, mercy, and forgiveness defines righteousness.  We find the same teaching in the New Testament in the ministry of Jesus Christ.  Our merciful Father sent Jesus the Messiah to redeem mankind and to fulfill the hope of the inspired writer of the Book of Wisdom that through our repentance God will forgive our sins (verse 19) and restore us to fellowship with Him.

Responsorial Psalm 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16 ~ God's Goodness and Forgiveness
The response is: "Lord, you are good and forgiving."

5 You, O LORD, are good and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all who call upon you.  6 Hearken, O LORD, to my prayer and attend to the sound of my pleading.
Response:
9 All the nations you have made shall come and worship you, O LORD, and glorify your name.  10 For you are great, and you do wondrous deeds; you alone are God.
Response:
15 You, O LORD, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity.  16 Turn toward me, and have pity on me; give your strength to your servant.
Response:

The title of this psalm is A psalm of David.  The psalmist, believed to be the great King David, expresses confidence that when he is in distress and calls upon God in prayer that God hears him (verses 5-6).  He proclaims that God is the one and only God of all nations, and all nations owe Him worship and praise (verses 9-10). 

In verse 15, the Psalmist repeats the list of God's attributes proclaimed to Moses when, enveloped in the Glory Cloud, God stood with Moses in Exodus 34:5-7.  The result of the Psalmist's conviction of God's greatness, mercy, and grace is that he declares himself God's servant, and he has confidence that God will give him the strength he needs to persevere in his struggles (verses 15-16). 

Jesus promised that whenever we ask anything in His name that He will do (Jn 14:13).  When we turn to God in prayer, we do so in union with His Son.  When we invoke Jesus in our prayers, He prays with us and for us.  He prays for us as our high priest in the heavenly Sanctuary.  He prays for us because He is our compassionate Savior who is ever ready to forgive us our sins and to restore us to fellowship with Him and His Body, the Church.

The Second Reading Romans 8:26-27 ~ Intercession of the Holy Spirit
26 The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.  27 And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God's will.

St. Paul assures us that the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us through our spiritual rebirth in Christian baptism (Jn 3:5; Rom 5:5), assists us in our prayers according to God's saving plan.  He is especially with us when we feel inadequate in expressing our desires and fears.  He articulates our deepest yearnings to the Father and intercedes for us according to God's will with our salvation as the object of His intercession.

All Christians long for union with the Most Holy Trinity in our final redemption and the hope of living the glory of the beatific vision.  We also look forward to the promise of our second resurrection when we receive our glorified bodies (our first resurrection was in our baptism). This great hope is almost too much to be able to comprehend in our limited natural state, but it is God the Holy Spirit who helps us, prays with us, and intercedes for us in "groanings" and "with sighs too deep for words" to receive this final and eternal gift.  Every child who truly loves his family longs to be at home with his family.  Our "family" is the Most Holy Trinity and our spirits long to be at home with Him.

In his letters, Paul always impressed on his audience the necessity of prayer, as Jesus Himself taught in Matthew 6:5-15 (in the Sermon on the Mount).  In his letters, St. Paul frequently addresses the necessity of prayer in the life of the Christian (see Rom 12:12; 1 Cor 7:5; Eph 6:18; Phil 4:6; Col 4:2; 1 Thes 5:17; 1 Tim 2:8; and 5:5).  St. Paul writes in his letters that he is constantly praying for the faith communities to whom he has written (Rom 1:10; Eph 1:16; Phil 1:4; Col 1:3, 9; 1 Thes 1:2, 3; 3:10; 2 Thes 1:11; Phile verse 4).  He requests that they also pray for him (Rom 15:30; 2 Cor 1:11; Eph 6:19; Phil 1:19; Col 4:3; 1 Thes 5:25; 2 Thes 3:1; Phile verse 22; Heb 13:18).   It is God the Holy Spirit who enables the Christian to approach the throne of God the Father and to speak to Him as His little child.

The Gospel of Matthew 13:24-43 ~ The Kingdom Parables Continued
In the third great discourse in St. Matthew's Gospel, Jesus teaches seven parables.  Last week's Gospel reading introduced the first of the so-called "Kingdom Parables."  In Matthew Chapter 13, Jesus uses the word "kingdom" twelve times (Mt 13:11, 19, 24, 31, 33, 38, 41, 43, 44, 45, 47 and 53), and it is for this reason that this collection of seven parables is called "the Kingdom Parables."

In the usual sense in Greek literature, a parabole presents a "comparison" to inspire deeper thought.  The Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament uses the word parabole to translate the Hebrew word masal.  In the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, masal is the designation given to a variety of literary forms including allegories, axioms, proverbs and similitudes (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, "Parable," page 146).  In the New Testament, parables are primarily stories that are meant to illustrate a certain truth.  Jesus uses parables that are comparisons between the truths of His teachings and the events of everyday life. 

In the seven "Kingdom Parables" in Matthew Chapter 13, like the prophets of old, Jesus teaches in parables, using topics of everyday life and making comparisons, to emphasize His teaching points that reveal "the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven" (13:11):

  1. Parable of the Sower (verses 3b-9, 18-23)
  2. Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat (verses 24-30, 36-43)
  3. Parable of the Mustard Seed (verses 31-32)
  4. Parable of the Yeast (verse 33)
  5. Parable of the Hidden Treasure (verse 44)
  6. Parable of the Pearl of Great Price (verses 45-46)
  7. Parable of the Sorting of Good and Bad Fish (verses 47-50)

Jesus gives the reason why He is teaching in parables in Matthew 13:13-15.  Using a little proverb to explain why He now speaks in parables and then, quoting from Isaiah 6:9-10, Jesus makes another of the ten fulfillment statement from the Old Testament in the Gospel of Matthew (see another fulfillment statement concerning parables in Mt 13:34-35).  Since the religious leaders and some of the people influenced by them have rejected His message, He speaks in parables so they will not readily understand in fulfillment of the judgment prophecy in the Book of Isaiah against an unrepentant people (see the harsher statement in Mk 4:12).

Matthew 13:24-30 ~ The Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat
24 He proposed another parable to them.  "The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field.  25 While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.  26 When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.  27 The slaves of the householder came to him and said, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?  Where have the weeds come from?'  28 He answered, 'An enemy has done this.'  His slaves said to him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'  29 He replied, 'No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.  30 Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, 'First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

Later the disciples will ask Jesus to explain this parable (verse 36).  We will look at the meaning of the parable in verses 36-43.  However, for now it is sufficient to understand that like the Parable of the Sower in last week's Gospel reading, the sower of the wheat is Jesus, the wheat represents the children of the Kingdom of God.  The weeds are the sinners sown by Satan, and the field is the world.  The Greek word translated as "weeds" is darnel, a poisonous weed that resembles wheat early in its growing cycle.  The only use for the darnel was to bundle the plants and burn them for fuel (see Mt 13:30).  It is a good metaphor for the unrepentant sinner who can masquerade as one of the righteous but is not fit for the Kingdom of God.

In verse 30, the owner of the field, the "householder," tells his slaves to let the "wheat" (children of God) and the "weeds" (those who reject Jesus as Lord and Savior) grow together.  The owner's answer applies to the human harvest of souls. The owner does not want to take the chance that uprooting the weeds will destroy any of the wheat that might be accidentally pulled up.  God in His mercy gives sinners every chance to repent their sins and turn back to a fruitful relationship with Him.  He will not visit judgment upon the sinner until the last breath the sinner takes in this life (see CCC 827, 1036-37).

The Church teaches that in everyone, even in the community of the faithful, the "weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time" (CCC 827).  Like the servants of the owner of the field, the Church gathers to herself sinners already caught up in Christ's salvation but still making their way on the journey to holiness.  Some scholars suggest that the slaves of the master are the disciples of Jesus, but it is more likely, since Jesus is the "householder," that the slaves of His house are the members of the ministerial priesthood who must welcome the sinner and the saint into the household of Christ that is His Church.

According to the parable, the harvest will determine the fate of the the "weeds" (unrepentant sinners) and the "wheat" (the righteous children of God).  In Scripture "harvest" is a common metaphor for the time of God's judgment (see Jer 51:33; Hos 6:11).  The wheat/children of God are destined for eternal life in heaven, and the weeds/children of Satan (1 Jn 3:10) who reject the Christ are destined for eternal destruction.  It is ultimately a free-will choice made by both the "wheat" and the "weeds."

Matthew 13:31-32 ~ The Parable of the Mustard Seed
31 He proposed another parable to them.  "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field.  32 It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.  It becomes a large bush, and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'"

Jesus uses hyperbole in describing the mustard seed as the smallest of seeds and its plant in full growth as the largest of plants/trees (a mustard tree could only grow as high as 8-12 feet).  The contrast here is between the small beginnings of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and its future expansion to encompass the whole earth, sheltering all who come to dwell in the household of Jesus that is the Church.  The allusion to the Kingdom becoming so large that "birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches" is a reference to the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar in which he saw a huge tree that sheltered "birds of the sky" and other animals (Dan 4:7).  Daniel interpreted the tree and the animals to represent Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom and the many different peoples over whom he ruled.  The comparison is that the Kingdom of Jesus Christ will be even greater than the Kingdom of the Babylonians (also see Dan 9:17-19).

Matthew 13:33 ~ The Parable of the Yeast
33 He spoke to them another parable.  "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened."

Yeast is a fermenting agent that, when mixed with flour into a dough, causes the dough to rise and expand.  In the Bible, leaven/yeast is usually a negative image often representing sin (Ex 12:15, 19; 13:7; Mt 16:6; 1 Cor 5:6-8) but not in this parable.  Three is always a significant number in Scripture, symbolizing perfection, completeness, or an important event in salvation history.  Three measures of wheat flour is a huge amount of flour and could produce enough bread to feed over a hundred people (Jeremias, Parables of Jesus, page 147).  This parable, like the Parable of the Mustard Seed, illustrates the same point which is the amazing growth of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ that is His New Covenant Church. 

Matthew 13:34-35 ~ The Use of Parables
34 All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables.  He spoke to them only in parables, 35 to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables; I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation [of the world]."

The quote in verse 35 is from Psalms 78:2; the Hebrew text uses the word masah which, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, is the word parabole/parableAs in the other ten "fulfillment" statements in the Gospel of Matthew, St. Matthew applies the fulfillment of this verse to Jesus' parable teachings.  The title of Psalm 78 attributes the psalm to Asaph who is called a prophet in 2 Chronicles 29:30.

What has happened to cause Jesus to stop teaching directly to the crowds and to begin only teaching in parables (aside from fulfilling the prophecy of Psalms 78:2)?  It is the same reason the Old Testament prophets began to speak in parables during their ministries.  What has happened is the opposition of the Pharisees and chief priests; their questioning had turned to outright rejection and hostility.  Jesus reacts to the opposition of the religious leadership in the same way that other prophets of God have reacted to the rejection of God's messenger or the failure of the civil and religious authorities to guide the people in righteousness: like those earlier prophets, He begins to speak in parables.

Matthew 13:36-43 ~ The Parable of the Weeds Explained
36 Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house.  His disciples approached him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field."  37 He said in reply, "He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, 38 the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom.  The weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil.  The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.  40 Just as weeds are collected and burned [up] with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  41 The Son of Man, will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.  42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.  43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  Whoever has ears ought to hear."

There are two themes in this parable. The themes are both the patience of the Lord in waiting for sinners to repent and the inevitability of a final judgment.  As in the Parable of the Sower, when His disciples do not understand, Jesus patiently explains His teaching (Mt 13:1-9, 18-23).  Jesus tells His disciples that the "field" is the world and the "harvest" is the judgment at the end of the age.  There are five different people or kinds of people mentioned in the parable (six if you count the slaves in the first telling of the parable).  Jesus identifies five different groups/persons:

1. The sower of the seed He who sows good seed is the Son of Man
2. The good seed/wheat the good seed the children of the kingdom
3. The darnel/weeds The weeds are the children of the evil one
4. The sower of the weeds and the enemy who sows them is the devil
5. The harvesters and the harvesters are angels

The slaves and the harvesters are two different groups since the master tells the slaves in 13:30 that He will tell the harvesters to first collect the weeds.  Notice the contrast between "the children of the kingdom" and the "children of the evil one."  Once again, Jesus teaches that there is no middle ground.  God is just, merciful, and patient, but He does not force us to accept citizenship in the Kingdom and His gift of eternal salvation.  If a person has not chosen to be a child of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, he has chosen to be a child of the devil (1 Jn 3:10)!  What choice have you made?  Remember, there is no middle ground.  You have until you draw your last breath or the time of Christ's glorious return to make your choice, but be aware that your choice will have eternal consequences!

Catechism References:

Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-30 (CCC 827); 13:41-42 (CCC 1034); 13:41 (CCC 333); 13:42 (CCC 1034)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014; revised  2017 www.AgapeBibleStudy.com