GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So the Gospel for this week is another long one, it is Matthew 13:24-43. So the Church is giving us a number of parables to read and ponder, so let's go through those together:
Another parable he put before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, `Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?' He said to them, `An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, `Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he said, `No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"
Let’s pause there for just a second. Remember here that we are continuing our journey through the discourse on the parables, and one of the things that I said in the last session on the parables was just to remember that parables are not just comparisons, they are also riddles. So Jesus is using this ancient Jewish form of teaching, of the riddle, the mashal, the proverb, the parable, in order to tease our minds and to get us to think about the mysteries of the kingdom that he says he's unveiling through the parables. He is both revealing the kingdom, but he is also concealing the kingdom, in a sense, through these different parables. So lots of the parables, although they are drawing from ordinary life, they're not identical to ordinary life. They often contain some unexpected element — or what I like to call a twist — that usually gives you an insight into what the main message of the parable is. Usually the twist will help you find out. It is not every parable, but it's many of them. And in this case you can already see that there are certain aspects of this parable that are, so to speak, unrealistic or unexpected.
So on the one hand, a man sowing good seed in his field would be a standard part of every day first century Jewish life. It was an agricultural society. Wheat was the staple crop, from which you would make bread. But the first unexpected element of this parable is that while everyone's asleep, his enemy comes along in the middle of the night and sows little seeds of weeds into his garden in order to ruin his crops. So this is just downright vindictive, and it is also a little comical to imagine a guy creeping through his fields in the middle of the night and sowing weeds throughout his fields. I mean how long would it take and how would you even do that? So immediately you can see here that something unusual is taking place. Now if we keep walking through the parable here, once the stalks of wheat come up and begin to bear grain, the servants can notice now that weeds have appeared also.
Most scholars here will see in that verse a reference to what used to be known as the wheat and the tares. In other words, there is a certain type of grass, it's almost like a kind of ryegrass, and it’s a weed that can look very much like wheat in the early stages of its growth, so that you might not be able to tell the two were different from one another until the stalks actually began to bear fruit, to bear heads of grain. Then you would be able to see, “wait a second! Some of this is weeds and some of this is wheat. Some of this is wheat and some of this is tares.” So the servants here notice the weeds once the fruit comes to bear and — again, second unexpected element — they are a little shocked. They are like “didn't you sow good seed in your field?” So this is a surprise to them, “how then has it weeds?” Because you would normally associate weeds with a negligent farmer, with someone who's neglectful. Maybe you have had a garden before and you kind of let it go, you weren’t attentive, you didn't stay on top of it, what happens?
Pretty soon your garden is full of weeds. So they asked the master, “You are a good farmer. You sow good seeds. Why are there weeds in the field?” And he responds, “an enemy has done this.” Another surprise there, he wouldn’t say “well you know sometimes weeds just grow.” He knows that this is the direct result of someone's plot against him.
And so the servants say to him, “well do you want us to go and gather them?” And here you have a bit of a twist because you might be expecting the master to say “well yeah, get the weeds out of the field,” because again, think about normal gardening practices. If you have weeds in your garden, your first impulse is going to be to go and take them out so that whatever plants are planted there will continue to grow and bear fruit. But the master doesn't do that, he says here, “let them grow together because if you go and gather the weeds you might root up the wheat along with them. Let them stay together until the harvest and then at the harvest time I'm going to have the harvesters separate them out. Gather the weeds and burn them and gather the wheat into the barn.” Okay, so what is all this about? Well obviously this is not just about first century agricultural practices. Jesus is trying to lead the disciples into one of the mysteries of the kingdom.
And one of the mysteries of the kingdom of God is that when you look at it, it's a mixed bag. It looks like a field that has been neglected because is not only has weed in it, it also has weeds in it. In other words, it’s not pretty. You might expect, like one of the prophets say in the Old Testament, “the kingdom of God is like a glorious field of wheat, a golden field of wheat.” But that is not what the kingdom looks like in the parable. In this parable the kingdom looks like a field that is a mixed bag. It has weeds and it has wheat, and Jesus’ point here, the meaning, the message of this particular passage, is that that shouldn't be a scandal to the disciples. In other words, there is going to be good and there is going to be evil. There's going to be wheat and there's going to be tares in the kingdom until the very end. That God, in his mysterious providence, allows the good and evil to stand, to grow, so to speak, side-by-side. But that doesn't mean he's negligent, it doesn't mean he is unaware of the evil, it doesn't mean that he is not going to do something about it. All of it will be sorted out, but only at the end, only at the final judgment. Now as soon as I am saying that I am realizing that I just gave you the explanation. We are supposed to wait because Jesus is going to give you the explanation a little bit later. But I hope that gives you a sense of what Jesus is doing here and how the parable might be somewhat unexpected.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Okay, so what then are some practical points we can draw out about this verse from the living tradition? I’m going to bring up two sources here. The first is from St. Augustine. St. Augustine wrote a short—this is unusual for him—a short commentary on Romans. It was one of his earlier works. And in his section on Romans 8, Augustine says this about the verse we have for today:
“We do not know how to pray as we ought” for two reasons. First, it is not yet clear what future we are hoping for or where we are heading, and second, many things in this life may seem positive but are in fact negative, and vice versa. Tribulation, for example, when it comes to a servant of God in order to test or correct him may seem futile to those who have less understanding… But God often helps us through tribulation, and prosperity, which may be negative if it traps the soul with delight and the love of this life, is sought after in vain.”
So that’s Augustine, On Romans
, number 54. In other words, for Augustine, what he’s saying is there are two reasons we need the Holy Spirit to intercede on our behalf and to teach us how to pray. There are two reasons we don’t know how to pray as we ought.
First, we don’t really know where we’re heading. We don’t know the future. A lot of times we are ignorant of what is to come, so it’s hard for us to ask rightly about our ultimate destiny, because it’s still obscure to us, as we’ll see elsewhere. Paul is going to say:
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him,”
So there’s a transcendent element to our ultimate destiny that just illuminates how ignorant we really are of where we’re heading and what our ultimate destiny really is. So we tend to shoot lower, in other words. Our hopes are often much lower than what God’s hopes for us actually are. So the Spirit will ask for more than we ask for ourselves. And you know this if you have kids, right? A lot of times what they want is actually much less than what you want to give them. They will often set their sights on lower, earthly things. And you’ll often have to withhold those things from them in order to teach them to aim higher. That’s just how children are; they don’t know any better. And that’s how we are when we pray...we don’t know any better.
And then the second thing is, Augustine says, is that things that we think are good are actually negative. So for example, Augustine uses the example of suffering. He says, “How many of us actually pray, ‘Lord, send me some tribulation’?” Well, most people don’t, and so when tribulation comes, we often treat it as something negative. But Augustine says that in this case, sometimes tribulation can actually grow us, help us to grow, and it can be a positive thing. Whereas prosperity, which we will often pray for—give us prosperity or health—can be a danger, because it can turn our soul away from God. And the only one who really knows what’s good for us and what’s bad for us is God Himself.
So the other reason that the Spirit will intercede for us is because we’ll often ask for things that we don’t actually need or that aren’t good for us. And again, if you have children, you know exactly what I’m talking about here. Kids will take the candy everyday over...you know, they’ll want candy over a good solid meal everyday. They want it because it’s sweet. But it’s not necessarily good for them. It can be bad for them, especially if it’s too much. So the same thing is true in our prayer to God the Father. So the Spirit acts as our intercessor and helps us to pray when we don’t know how to pray as we ought.
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