Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time A
July 19, 2020
Matthew 13: 24-43
By Rev. John Tran
During these Sundays of Ordinary Time we will be taking a look at several parables of Jesus which we began last Sunday. Parables are interesting teaching tools which we may not understand so well today. They were meant to shock people into paying attention and into awareness; they always included something that the hearers did not expect to hear, some point of view that was out of the ordinary way of thinking of things. In the first part of the parable about the weeds planted among the wheat, the original hearers were surprised to hear that the householder did not let his servants take out the weeds while that plants were still young; taking them out while they were easy to get to was what everyone expected the householder to do. But Jesus has him waiting until it was time for the harvest to separate them from the wheat. This would have been difficult to do, no doubt some of the wheat would get mixed up with the weeds. The wheat stands for the good people, while the weed stands for sinners. It shows that God is patient and willing to carefully separate them in the end time. Who knows, maybe some weeds will become wheat given time.
The third parable is about the power of yeast. A little leaven makes the whole loaf rise. As if to make this point abundantly clear, Jesus specifies the amount of flour being used in the parable: three measures. That would make a colossal amount of bread – enough to feed 100 people. And that huge lump of dough is penetrated and transformed by a pinch of yeast. The Christian has the calling to be just like yeast in spreading the Good News of Jesus' message.
Traditionally, we preach about how the church has grown larger from the small beginnings of a tiny seed into a very large bush, like the mustard seed, growing to maybe 10 to 12 feet high. But the original hearers may have heard something different, since they would have no experience of the large growth of the Christian church several hundred years after Jesus Christ. They would have thought Jesus was referring to the image of tree as proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom. In the Prophets, a Cedar of Lebanon was used as an image of the coming of the God’s Kingdom, something that would have to be imported from a foreign country.
Instead, Jesus, was saying that the Kingdom of God would not be announced by a huge tree from another country, but rather a small bush that grew in the hearers own back yards. They did not have to look for a sign from outside, but a sign that was right in the middle of them. God’s Kingdom is not like some dominating empire, but its power comes out of weakness. It’s transforming power comes from the simple faith of Jesus own disciples and true followers. It does not come from outside, but from within a weak, ordinary person.
So, today’s parable of the mustard seed should not lead us to consider how large and great the church has become growing from a small seed to a huge bush. No, rather, this parable should cause us to think about how the Kingdom of God really does grow. It grows from within each of us. How that seed grows in your or my heart is the key to the spread of God’s Kingdom. So rather than congratulating ourselves or God about the growth of the kingdom, we should be pondering how this seed of faith is growing within me. How am I allowing time for Jesus to come into my heart and my life. Am I giving space for the seed to grow by taking time out to be with God by praying, reading his word in scripture or a spiritual book? Am I celebrating the Eucharist as the body of Christ when I can? Am I letting Christ be present in my community by being his hand, arms and voice? How is the small mustard seed of my faith growing into a big tree in my back yard?
The Kingdom of God’s impact is out of proportion to its size: How odd, for example, that St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), was as famous as the world’s great Kings and Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers, business tycoons and movie stars. A tiny nun from Albania, working with the poorest of the poor in Calcutta was the commencement speaker at Harvard University’s graduation. She was the keynote speaker at the United States’ National Prayer Breakfast. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. This is way out of proportion.
Just so, a little bit of Christian courage sends ripples far and wide. One act of forgiveness, of mercy, can put an end to decades of bitterness, hatred, and resentment. One young man saying yes to God’s call to the priesthood or religious life can send tidal waves of truth reverberating throughout the world – as it did with Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and as it is doing with Pope Francis. Just so, the faithful mom and dad, lawyer, business person, and teacher who let Christ reign in their hearts and actions are spreading God’s saving grace far and wide. Just how far-and-wide will only be known at the end of the age, when everything is revealed. The impact of saying yes to Christ can never be exaggerated, as explained in today’s Gospel parable of the mustard seed and the yeast. The disciple's call is to embody the Lord's love and mercy, and allow it to grow.