July 17, 2011
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 13: 24-43
There is a longer and a shorter version of this Sunday's gospel reading and most
congregations will probably hear only the shorter passage (13:24-30).
Accordingly, I shall focus on the shorter version, with some brief comments at
the end about the remaining verses (13:31-43). The analogy Jesus uses is called
a parable, which means that it is a fictitious but believable story used to
illustrate a spiritual reality.
Most of those who heard Jesus were farmers and they could readily understand
that one cannot easily distinguish weeds from wheat when the plants are very
small. It is only when they have grown taller that the difference becomes
apparent. By that time, however, the roots are so intertwined that one cannot
pull out the weeds without severely damaging the wheat. Only at the harvest can
the separation be made safely. (Thus far, you hear a former farm boy speaking!)
The parable being presented here concerns the identity of the true believers. It
is often impossible to know who are for sure the true and faithful followers of
Jesus since we can usually judge only by appearances. In Jesus' day, the Scribes
and Pharisees seemed to be the most religious of all, yet he rejected them for
lack of interior conversion. They thought they knew for sure who were the
"weeds" and who were the "wheat." And they were sure that those whom they
rejected were rejected by God also. The gospels tell us that Jesus thought
Nothing is more hazardous for us human beings than to pass judgment on the
relationship of any individual with God. Even in cases of fairly obvious
wrongdoing we cannot always know about special circumstances that may affect
final judgment on that person's behavior. Since one cannot sin without freedom,
and since many have been loved so little that their freedom is minimal, it
follows that the degree of their culpability may be greatly reduced.
Many of us prefer not to listen to such reasoning because we want a simplistic
solution to crime, which ignores the deeper question about who have been loved
and are therefore free enough to accept full responsibility for their actions.
As a consequence, it can easily happen that many of us more or less free and
privileged people will be judged a bit more severely because we did not love and
help those who may have been struggling in some degree of psychic or spiritual
No doubt Jesus has the judgmental tendencies of the Scribes and Pharisees in
mind when he uses this parable. Such smugly "orthodox" members of the church are
often very impatient with church authorities who do not condemn and reject less
“observant” members. They want the "weeds" torn out of the ground…and the
sooner, the better. In fact, however, it is not all so clear who are the "wheat"
and who are the "weeds." And those who are sure they know the difference may,
like the Scribes and Pharisees, discover at harvest-time that they too are
totally mistaken. The conclusion is clear: rash judgment is a very dangerous
The short parables about the mustard seed and the leaven are used to illustrate
the surprising growth of the church in spite of small and unpromising
beginnings. The point is that God can work through small and ordinary agents
(like ourselves) to achieve surprising and significant results. We should find
this truth encouraging and allow it to free us from a sense of helplessness.
With God we can do more than we could ever imagine.
Demetrius R. Dumm. O.S.B.