by Deacon John Rangel, CMCS Director of Mission
The Gospel readings from Matthew Chapter 13. During this time we hear three parables to describe the Kingdom of Heaven, the Man Sowing Good Seed, the Mustard Seed and the Yeast. I love Jesus’ parables. I hope you appreciate them as well.
If we take time to reflect on these stories, they’re sure to challenge our thinking about certain moral or religious points. Dr. Megan McKenna, author, popular speaker and storyteller wrote a book she titled “Parables The Arrows of God”. She notes that like arrows parables pierce straight to the truth, and straight to the heart of the listener, opening up new understanding of our lives as Christians. Parables intrigue and inspire, sometimes puzzle, but always, always point us directly toward the Kingdom.
Jesus’ agricultural images are obviously very appropriate to his listeners who were much closer to the land than most of us are. He uses many other easily understandable images in his parables; for example, today we have the mustard seed and the yeast in the flour. And there are many, many more images recorded in the Gospels. Perhaps in our day and age, we might more easily understand the wheat and weeds story if the opening line was something like this, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a 401K portfolio that has some good stocks (wheat) and bad stocks (weeds). When do we pull up the losers and get rid of them?”
In his teaching ministry, Jesus’ used a completely different approach from the scribes and the Pharisees of his day who tended to work from the Law. I believe Jesus takes the figurative approach because all his listeners, from the most sophisticated to the simplest, can understand them. But that does not mean that Jesus is making things easier for the people of his time or for us. By making things understandable for them, and us, the moral choices we have to make in life become much clearer, much starker.
So let’s consider how two of these parables might be working in our lives.
Our learning all began in a small way. The Kingdom of God is like a child learning his or her letters. Time goes on and Mom and Dad and teachers work with the child, and the child’s ability to read grows so great that the child becomes a professor of English Literature. And so it is with the Kingdom of God. Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa taught their children their prayers. They brought their children to Church and taught them with their lives to value their relationship with the Lord. And their children became parents and did the same. And their children are now the moms and dads of our parish. The Church is full of good Christian men and woman, people of all walks of life, all living the values of the Kingdom of God, the spiritual realities of life.
And now you are doing the same. You are teaching the ABC’s of religion to your children. You have faith that the Kingdom of God will spread through them. So, don’t wonder if anything is getting through to the children. Don’t allow yourself to think that maybe nothing is happening for your children. Trust in God. If a child who learns his letters can become a professor of English Literature, a child who learns the simplest lessons of faith can become a great force of love for the Kingdom of God. Say prayers with your children. Allow God to turn the tiny mustard seed into a great plant.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like the life of every man and every woman. There is that in each of us, which is wheat. There is that which is weed. Should God destroy us because of the weed in us? Or should he give us time? Perhaps that which is weed in us can be overtaken by that which is wheat. A strong prayer life goes a long way in preventing serious sin. The Divine Farmer isn’t ready to give up on the crop. We shouldn’t give up on ourselves. God knows that what may appear to be weed is in reality wheat.
For example, a man has a drinking problem. His drinking is destroying himself and his family. Through prayer and the determination to change his life and through his own openness to the grace of God, he goes for help. He first becomes a member of AA. Then he is active in helping others. Now for the last fifteen years he is dry. He is still an alcoholic, but his condition has resulted in virtue overcoming vice. Now he helps others. God didn’t give up on him. The man didn’t give up on himself. What looked like weed, the disease of alcoholism, turned out to be wheat as he brings God’s healing to other alcoholics.
Or the Kingdom of Heaven is like the school where we send our treasures, our children. They are not finished products when they get there. They have to do a lot of growing. They are still our treasures, and we love them. Perhaps in the school there are other children who may not have experienced basic human values. Perhaps, they have been raised in violent households, or households torn apart by some form of chemical dependency. Perhaps, they have witnessed people hurting others, taking what is not theirs, using bad language, and doing terrible things. As a result, these children may have some pretty rough edges. Should the principal of the school throw the children from dysfunctional homes out before they cause serious problems, or should he give them the opportunity to learn basic values from the school and even from their classmates? Yes, children need to be removed from the mainstream if they do something that threatens the welfare of the other children, but they should not be removed if they have not offended gravely, because the plants are still young and there may be wheat where we think there is weed.
The parable of the mustard seed: the little efforts we make for the Kingdom of God have a tremendous impact upon the world. The parable of the weeds and wheat: God has infinite patience. He is not about to give up on his people. We should not give up on others. And we should not give up on ourselves.
The parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the weeds and the wheat. Two simple parables. Two simple stories. Two tremendous sources of encouragement for us. We truly have a just and kind God.