16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 20, 2014
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today we read a rather unusual gospel text.
If I asked you what it was about, most of you would probably say
it was the parable of the weeds among the wheat.
But if we were paying close attention we noticed that in the middle of the text
we find that Jesus gives us two other parables:
the parable of the mustard seed
and the parable of the yeast.
So we sort of have a parable sandwich:
the two smaller parables wrapped between the 1st parable;
double-decker parable sandwich at that.
And like any well-made sandwich,
all the parts are chosen to blend together and complement each other,
producing a combined taste that is absolutely delicious.
Now, every sandwich, by definition, has bread
—sometimes two pieces, sometimes one, like a “wrap” or a taco.
Some tend to think the bread is unimportant,
that the stuff inside the sandwich is important—the meat, so to speak.
But you can’t have a sandwich without the bread:
it holds everything together, gives it form,
and allows it to be eaten conveniently.
But it also can add flavor: the taste of rye or pumpernickel
can make all the difference to the taste of the sandwich.
And so we have the parable of the weeds and wheat
wrapping around the other two parables:
at once giving context, holding the whole text together,
and also giving it it’s defining flavor.
The primary context is Jesus himself,
who is the sewer of good seed, the wheat,
while the devil is the sewer of bad seed, the weeds.
In that context we understand that the good seed, the wheat,
is the individual believer in Christ,
and the bad seed, the weed, is the one who follows the devil.
But then we see something that is perplexing to all of us:
Christ allows the weeds to grow among the wheat.
I’m sure all of us have asked ourselves about this from time to time:
why does Christ allow bad people to flourish in the world,
and in particular, in the Church itself?
And this question has many sisters:
Why does he allow bad things to happen to good people?
Why does he allow good people to sometimes do bad things?
And we could go on and on.
The parable itself gives us the basic answer to all these similar questions.
“if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.”
But, there’s a slight problem with that answer.
After all, like weeds in the wheat, couldn’t God
—who is all-knowing and all-powerful—
simply go through the human population and recognize all the evil people,
and pull them out?
It would seem so.
So I think he’s trying to tell us something more here.
First of all, I think he’s telling us he has his reasons for doing what he does.
We may not see it at first, or ever,
but he is a lot smarter than us and has a very good reason.
And I think he’s also saying that
even though he knows the weeds from the wheat, sometimes we don’t.
And that can be a problem.
For example, there are many people who appear to be very good,
and may even lead other people to God,
but inside or in their private life they’re terrible sinners.
So pulling that weed might not serve God’s purpose, because we’d thing:
“that’s a good person—why is God doing that to him?”
—it might even lead to other good people losing their faith:
in other words, he might pull up some wheat with the weeds.
And I also think he’s saying that
sometimes it’s hard to tell the weeds from the wheat.
Not in the sense that God confuses good and evil.
But he knows that we are all sinners—even the best of us sins:
sometimes the wheat act more like a weed.
And more than that, sometimes a weed can become wheat.
We read in today’s first reading:
“But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency,
…and you gave your children good ground for hope
that you would permit repentance for their sins.”
Remember, the basic context of this parable,
the wheat of this bread, so to speak,
is Jesus himself,
the same Jesus began his public ministry by proclaiming:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
So when He says:
“if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them,”
he’s also talking about the weeds in our own lives,
the evil done by good people, the sins of those who follow Christ.
If he were to come today and pull up weeds he might take a lot of us with him.
And the problem with that is that the weeds that are pulled will be
“throw[n] them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
And so in his mercy, he waits patiently,
and allows the weeds to grow along with the wheat in our hearts and lives,
allowing us to repent, to pull the weeds ourselves, with his grace,
and so receive the reward of those he calls “the righteous,”
who “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
And then, there are also those people who simply do not follow Christ at all,
those who willfully embrace sin.
In the context of Christ who is not only all powerful and all knowing,
but also all-merciful and patient,
and for whom all things are possible,
we know that sometimes the weeds themselves
can be transformed into wheat.
And so he holds back… allowing time for repentance,
so that even the worst sinners among us can be saved.
We see this in the New Testament itself, as we see Mary Magdalene,
the archetypical sinner from whom Jesus drove out seven demons,
so that she became a great saint whose feast we celebrate this Tuesday.
And then there’s St. Paul, who persecuted the first Christians.
And we see it all throughout history:
St. Augustine, St. Thomas Becket, St. Ignatius, and even St. Francis;
each of these a noted sinner, who became a great saint.
And in your own lives, you know people like this—maybe even yourself.
How many of us, by the mercy and patience of Christ,
have been weeds transformed to wheat.
Thank God he didn’t come to pull us out
when we were complete and total weeds.
This is the bread of the sandwich,
the context that holds it all together and makes it all possible:
the merciful and patient Christ,
who sometimes allows the weeds to grow among the weeds
—in the world, in the Church and in our hearts.
Which brings us to the stuff inside the sandwich:
the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast.
The parable of the mustard seed reminds us that the kingdom
is like the small seed that grows into a “large bush.”
Again, in history we see how this has played out.
The church began with about 200 believers on Pentecost in 33 AD,
but has grown to 2.2 billion Christians, 1.2 of those Catholic.
Even so, sometimes we seem like wheat among the weeds:
we may be 2.2 billion, but there are more than twice that number
of people in world who are not Christian.
And many of those vehemently oppose us,
by trying to convert us, or oppress us, or even kill us.
And there are even those who are in the Church who do not truly follow Christ.
And then even ourselves, even as we try to follow Christ, we continue to sin.
Sometimes it seems Christ’s’ kingdom in the world, in the Church and in our hearts,
is very small, defenseless against the powers of evil.
And yet, just as surely as we saw it grow in population form 200 to 2.2 billion,
and just as we’ve seen periods of great holiness in the Church
and in our own lives,
we know that, by Christ’s grace,
and through his mercy and patience,
the tiny seed can become a great tree.
And finally, the parable of the yeast.
This reminds us that as those who follow Christ will grow
—not merely in numbers but also, and most importantly, in holiness—
as time passes they will lead others to be transformed and lift up by Christ.
As the patient and merciful Christ allows the wheat and weed to grow together, his grace and the good example of Christians
can transform weeds into wheat:
what is flat can rise, what is evil can be converted.
So this is the “meat” of our sandwich:
the great potential of the seed of the faith planted in us
to transform the world, the Church and each one of us.
So that in the context of the bread of Christ’s mercy and patience we discover
the possibility of our own greatness and transformation,
so that we can “shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father.”
Now, I began by saying we have 3 parables today.
I supposed I’ve introduced a 4th parable: “the parable of the sandwich.”
I apologize if that’s been silly or confusing.
But bear with me for one more moment.
In all this we see the key is the bread: the mercy and patience of Jesus.
All the other stuff, our great potential and transformation,
only comes and holds together
because of his mercy and patience.
Allow my little parable now to turn your eyes to the Bread we are about to receive
—bread that is transformed by Christ’s mercy and patience,
so that as weeds become wheat, wheat becomes bread,
and bread becomes Christ himself.
In the gospel today he tells us: “Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
As he comes before us in the Eucharist,
let he who has eyes, especially the eyes of the heart, let him see.
Let us see Jesus, and open our hearts to receive him,
him who is mercy and patience incarnate.