The gospel passage this week from The Gospel According to Matthew follows last week’s reading. Jesus continues to teach in parables. Here he offers three. All three relate to the Kingdom of Heaven (which is another expression for the “Kingdom of God.”)
In the first, Jesus likens the “kingdom of heaven” to “a man who sows good seed in a field.” In his explanation of the parable at the end of this passage, the “man” is the “Son of Man.”
The “Son of Man” is an eschatological (end times) image. The “Son of Man” is the judge who passes judgment on the world at the end of time. Though he does not say it here explicitly, Jesus is the “Son of Man.” He is the one who sows the good seeds which he says are the “children of the kingdom.” He is also the one who will be the final judge. The parable invites us to ponder a reality that we all deal with in life; that is the problem of evil.
Jesus’ disciples who are the “children of the kingdom,” live now in the “world” represented by the field. In this “world,” there are also people who do evil deeds.
Jesus uses parables to have us wrestle with some big questions of life and of the Kingdom. One question that we might consider is “why is there such a dichotomy” between the “children of the Kingdom” and the “children of the evil one?” Is Jesus’ point that the “children of the Kingdom” never do a wrong or sinful deed? Are they perfect? When we put this parable into the context of all of Jesus’ teaching, I think the answer would be “no.”
So what is Jesus getting at? Perhaps he is recognizing that some people reject God, reject the “Kingdom” (God’s plan for creation or His Kingship), and willingly choose to do evil deeds. We know this really happens. We can easily identify some notable figures in history who might just fit this description in vivid color.
However, Jesus may be speaking more on a day-to-day struggle that many disciples face when people they interact with, work with and live among people with are following a way of life that is not in concert with the Kingdom of God.
One example from Jesus’ ministry that comes to mind is his encounter with the “woman caught in the act of adultery.”
In that story from the Gospel According to John, the woman was not identified as the one doing evil; though she indeed committed a sinful act which Jesus forgives and tells her to “go and sin no more.” Rather, evil was represented by the deceitful leaders who throw her at the feet of Jesus, trying to trap Him, caring nothing for the woman or her situation in life. They want him to judge now. Jesus, the “Son of Man,” offers his decision saying “let the one among you who has no sin cast the first stone.”
Here, life triumphs over death; mercy over law. For none of them can cast the stone for they all know they have sin.
Going back to the parable of the weeds sown among thorns, perhaps Jesus is teaching us that while we live in this world we will have to deal with evil, and people who do evil deeds. At this point he is not giving an instruction on how to do this, or how to handle issues of justice or fairness or eradicating evil; he is rather urging perseverance and faithfulness. The next two parables may help in this regard.
Once again Jesus is using these parables to speak about the “Kingdom of heaven.” The “kingdom” is likened to a mustard seed sown in the ground or yeast kneaded into bread. In both cases, the “mustard seed” and the “yeast” are very small items.
If you’ve ever seen a mustard seed or a particle of yeast, you know small they are, seemingly insignificant. Yet something happens when they are “planted” or “kneaded.” The change that takes place is magnificent. The seed turns into a huge shrub. The yeast raises the dough doubling or tripling in size.
As is the case for most of the parables, Jesus does not offer an explanation. He wants us to think about it. One possible interpretation may be that when we take in the “Kingdom,” in other words, when we accept God as King and follow His Way, we are transformed. Our lives are changed for the better. The life that lives within us grows and expands. We are able to experience the world in new ways. We see things differently than before. We can do things we never thought possible. We can forgive when offended. We can be forgiven when we offend. We can recognize the needy in a wide variety of ways and be an instrument of compassion, assistance and help.
In other words, we can love as we are loved.
As this happens, the people we encounter may find in us a witness to love and mercy and an invitation to life in the Kingdom. And the Kingdom grows, like the mustard seed or the yeast.
This happens all the time, and much of the time the growth is unnoticed. God’s work is continual and ongoing. He is the one who causes the growth, which again, is abundant. So as we live in this world where we have to deal with the problem of evil, when we keep our focus on living as children of God, as citizens of the Kingdom, God’s work continues despite the evil that we encounter.
When Jesus offers the interpretation of the parable of the weeds, He points to the final judgement. The main point is that, in the end, evil will be eradicated. God will triumph over evil. We have witnessed this already. Jesus’ confrontation with evil lead to His passion and death. All through His ministry, He who is Good confronted evil with the power of love. On the cross at the moment of death, Jesus passes judgment, “father forgiven them, they know not what they do.”
Three days later, when Jesus rose from the dead in His body, good was triumphant.
Evil was robbed of its power to destroy.
In times when we face evil or have to live that struggle, Jesus reminds us in word and deed, that God will deliver His faithful.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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