Time and Growth in the Kingdom of Heaven
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 13:24-43.
Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened
to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.
When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.
The slaves of the householder came to him and said,
‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?
Where have the weeds come from?’
He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’
His slaves said to him,
‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds
you might uproot the wheat along with them.
Let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters,
“First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning;
but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘”
He proposed another parable to them.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed
that a person took and sowed in a field.
It is the smallest of all the seeds,
yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.
It becomes a large bush,
and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'”
He spoke to them another parable.
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast
that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour
until the whole batch was leavened.”
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables.
He spoke to them only in parables,
to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:
I will open my mouth in parables,
I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation
of the world.
Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house.
His disciples approached him and said,
“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,
the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom.
The weeds are the children of the evil one,
and the enemy who sows them is the devil.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.
The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
The Gospel this Sunday is exceptionally long. This is understandable since it tries to explain an ineffable reality in the Kingdom of Heaven. Ask any priest today what the Kingdom of Heaven is and you will get diverse answers. Today, Matthew gives us three parables to explain it: the wheat and weeds, the mustard seed, and the yeast and flour. Let us focus our reflection on two themes: time and growth.
In all three parables, a theme is evident – that of silent growth. The Kingdom of Heaven according to Matthew is not an instant Kingdom that appears out of nowhere. No, unlike our culture of speed and instant gratification, the Kingdom of Heaven grows in each of us in silence. Different species of wheat grow at different rates before being harvested, some in four months, the others up to eight months. Before the advent of microbiology with Louis Pasteur in 1879 and the proliferation of commercial yeasts, early bakers had to capture wild yeast from their environment, culture it, and add it to the dough. The process of fermentation or the ‘rising’ of the bread takes hours. Slower rises means tastier bread for them. All in all baking bread in the ancient world takes time. Contrast that today when how easily one could purchase bread from the bakeshop.
The point of the parables is clear. The Kingdom of Heaven works silently within us. St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans as this Sunday’s second reading, points out the real reason for this silent growth. The Spirit who teaches us how to pray as we ought is the God that moves within each of us inspiring us to grow. The period of ‘instant’ creation belongs to Genesis. Our era is the period of rising ‘doughs’. God is giving humanity the space and time to grow.
For those who allow God to work through them, a great promise is given. Jesus points out the seemingly impossible results that come out of Christian growth. Like the mustard seed, the ‘smallest of all seeds’, that grows into a majestic tree, a Christian in the process of conversion is meant to dominate the spiritual landscape so that the birds of heaven can rest in his branches. Remember our late bloomer in St. Augustine who once lived a life of decadence, has through the years of conversion and growth in the Spirit become a spiritual giant in the Church. Look at the life of St. Therese of the Child Jesus who was, like the seed planted in the ground, hidden from the world has become the patron of missions! The Kingdom of Heaven is marked by phenomenal growth, remarkable as the power that inspires its growth in every man.
If to provide a partial answer to the perennial problem of evil, “if there is a God why is there evil in the world?”, we look to the parable of the wheat and weeds. The patience of God is given to both wheat and weed. God tolerates evil and evil men. Here we see a glimpse of God’s Wisdom. Through centuries of reflection in the Church we have come to realize that humanity is inherently good and is capable of doing good and is meant to be so. God has made everything good. All of us are wheat planted in the world by God. Because of human freedom and human frailty we have the tendency to turn sour, to turn evil, to turn weed. There is a real enemy behind every resistance to the urging of the Spirit and he sows the weed within each of us if we allow him to. Yet in the presence of all these evil, God tolerates our failures. Why? Maybe because He still believes in the goodness that He has planted within each of us, if only we allow it to grow.
The main hero of this section on the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew is the God who according to the Book of Wisdom in the first reading ‘cares for all’ and the psalms proclaim as ‘good and forgiving.’ He is the ground of the Kingdom of Heaven in which we are to grow. If God has been provident, caring, and patient with us, shouldn’t we be to others but most especially to ourselves?