16th Sunday A
Sunday 23rd July 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Mt 13: 24-43
Jesus put before the crowds another riddle-story. ‘The Kingdom of God is a like a man who sowed excellent seed in his paddock but later, while he and his workers slept, his enemy came and sowed a poisonous weed, darnel, through his crop and slunk away.
Some time later, his workers came distressed to the land-owner: “Master, didn’t you sow good seed? So how come there’s now darnel coming up through the crop?”
The man said: “My enemy has done this!”
The servants responded: “Do you want us to go and weed out the darnel?”
“No,” said the Master, “it is too late; you’ll disturb and uproot the wheat too much. We will deal with it at harvest time. Then the reapers can bundle the darnel together and we can use it for fuel, while the wheat can be gathered and stored in the barn.”’
Jesus put before them another riddle-story: ‘The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed which a person took and sowed in a paddock. Even though it began as the tiniest of seeds it grew into a large shrub that even the birds could come and nest in its boughs.’
And Jesus told them another riddle-story: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven which a woman took and kneaded through twenty-five kilos of flour until it was thoroughly leavened.’
Jesus used riddle-stories to speak to the crowds. In fact this was the only way he would address these people. This was so the prophetic saying from the psalm would be fulfilled: ‘I will make my announcements in riddle-stories. This is how I will reveal the things that have been secret since the beginning of time.’
When Jesus had sent the crowds away, and the disciples had some privacy with him in the house, they asked him to explain the riddle-story about the wheat and the darnel. Jesus said: ‘The one who sows the excellent seed is the Son of Man, the paddock is the world, the good seed are the children of the Kingdom, while the darnel are the children of the evil one. The Enemy sowing this darnel is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world and the reapers are the angels. So just as darnel was gathered and burnt in the fire so will it be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels to cull out of his kingdom all who have been scandalous and lawless and will cast them into the fire where there is torment and agony. But the just will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of my Father. Those who want to hear, let them listen and understand!’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 85:5-6, 9-10, 15,16.
My God, you are good, full of forgiveness,
your abundant kindness flows over all who call to you.
Listen to my prayer,
hear my cries for help.
All the nations you created shall come
and worship before you.
They will glory in your name.
You are great, your deeds are wonderful.
Lord, you alone are God!
O my Lord, my God, you are compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness.
Show me your face,
be gracious to me,
give me, your servant, your own strength,
me, the child of your maidservant.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, the growth of your kingdom is a mystery to us. While we would like dramatic, clear signs of your power at work, you offer a quiet, gently growing kingdom. Send us your Spirit that we may understand the meaning of Jesus’ parables for we trust that they are as true in our own lives as they were in the time that he spoke them. We ask this in his name, confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
This Sunday’s Gospel continues the teaching that Jesus gave in parables, the short riddle-stories that caused people ponder what he was saying. All of these parables explore the mystery of the kingdom of God. The use of the term ‘kingdom of heaven’ was an oblique way of referring to the kingdom of God for the devout Jew of that time, out of respect, avoided using the word ‘God’.
The believers of Jesus’ time could well ask why hadn’t the people of Israel accepted Jesus as their Messiah just as we may ask why people of our time reject belief in God and in Jesus. The parable of the wheat and darnel addresses this problem. Darnel was a poisonous weed that looked very similar to wheat when young. In fact, it doesn’t really manifest its difference until the seed head appears. In this parable, Jesus challenges our assumptions concerning who belongs in the kingdom of God and who does not. Quite simply, it is only God who can judge and his judgement will be revealed at the end of time. That judgement will be based on the fruits that are produced.
The quiet, even obscure, coming of the Kingdom was a challenge to Jesus’ followers and the next two parables address this. Even John the Baptist, who had had such a revelation concerning who Jesus’ was, couldn’t understand why Jesus didn’t come in power and glory confronting dramatically the evil that was around him. Rather Jesus says the kingdom is like a tiny seed growing, like yeast in flour. The disciples had to trust that in God’s time and with God’s power that seed would offer shelter to birds, as well as flavour people’s food. The disciples had to understand that the growth of the kingdom could be as silent and as sure and effective as yeast growing in flour. The three measures mentioned in the parable are about 25 kilos, about the limit of what one person could possibly knead and far more than a family needed. Those three measures are a sign of the abundant generosity of this silently growing kingdom of God.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
As someone who comes from a long line of small acreage farmers, my initial sentiments are with the owner’s servants. These were the people who did the actual work of the farm and they would have taken a great deal of pride in their work. Real farmers do not put up with weeds and they develop ways of weeding, in even the most difficult circumstances. As a gardener, I also know that the sooner weeds are dealt with the better. I only have to look out my window to see the sorry state of a garden bed that I failed to weed when the offending plants were small.
The landowner in the parable takes a different view and his decision to let the weeds stay could well have shocked the first hearers of Jesus’ parable. The landowner knows he has the means to deal with the weeds at the end of the growing season and he has serious concerns that uprooting the weeds will harm the wheat. Therefore he takes a different, longer view of the problem.
When we draw lines from this parable to the practice of our faith, we are given a very serious challenge. As religious people, we strive to be good and to eradicate evil from our lives. We have an innate tendency to want things to be clear, black and white. We want to know who is acceptable and who is not. In fact, one of the recurring heresies of the Church is to try to clearly define who is a good Christian and who is not.
Jesus takes a very different stance on this problem. Firstly, he teaches that judging who is good and who is evil is God’s problem and God will deal with it in God’s own time….and that is a lot longer than we want. Secondly, what looks bad to us may well turn out to work for good in the long run. One of the signs of maturity is the ability to recognise that God can use people’s liabilities as the place where grace flourishes. Thirdly, in the life of the Kingdom of God, we often have to accept that we simply do not know what God is doing in our lives and the lives of those around us. We often journey blind, simply having to trust in the guidance that God gives for the present time.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
With the parable of the woman kneading the yeast, Jesus gave one of his most radical challenges to the practice of the Jewish religion. Much of the ‘torah’ – teaching of the law – and its subsequent interpretation stressed upon the religious Jews how different they were from the people around them. The practice of Sabbath, food, purity and clothing laws and circumcision reminded the faithful that God had chosen them from amongst the peoples of the world and made them his own. Even within the Jewish people themselves, how well one adhered to observance of the law was seen as a sign of just how faithful one was.
Now Jesus takes the practice of faith within the world to a whole new level. No longer are the faithful followers of God to be distinct from the world around them but rather they are to be transformative in that world. The ‘yeast’ the woman would have been using was more likely a sourdough culture, which looks like a bubbling slurry of flour and water. When mixed with more flour to make the bread, it completely disappears in the dough and its presence is only known by the change of the stodgy dough into fluffy loaves. This is a process that cannot be rushed – but it can be aided by good kneading. The amount of flour that Jesus says the woman kneaded is extraordinary. Three measures are around 25 kilos – the limit a person could knead by hand and an amount that would serve many more than a family. In fact, it would make enough bread for about 100 people. Drawing lines from the parable into our own practice of faith, we are told that we are to be transformative within our world and generous in the giving of faith.
This parable of Jesus challenges how we see the role of religious practice in our lives. The practice of religion does make us distinctive from the people around us. Our churches look different to other buildings, we worship God communally on Sunday, we adhere to moral codes that the world around us often despises. We are not to do these things to make ourselves feel better than those around us but rather to express our worship of God. Then, living in response of such a loving God, we will go out into our world, trying in every way we can to offer that transforming love to the people of our world.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
– This delightful contemporary painting by Jim Janknegt really connects the parable of the woman and the leaven with ordinary daily life.
– This painting on the Mustard Seed is also by the same painter.
– This is William Blake’s interpretation of The Wheat and the Darnel.
– John Everett Millais’ painting of the Sowing of the Tares –Darnel shows the malevolence of one who would destroy the work of another.
– This painting, also by John Everett Millais’ is of the [woman kneading in the yeast.
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
Jesus teaches that the kingdom of God usually comes in a quiet, gentle way much as we would prefer something clearer and more dramatic.
– Over this coming week, mull on how God has been present in your life. Start with the ‘big’ events where you felt God clearly present and mull over what happened and how it happened.
– As the week goes on, mull over events that seem smaller, even insignificant, yet which touched your heart.
Just as our eyes have to adjust to the dark in a dimly lit room, so our faith has to adjust to the mystery of God’s ways.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
In the parable of the wheat and the weeds our assumptions of what is good and what is evil are challenged. Often it is not as clear-cut as it may look.
Sit quietly with your God, rest in the divine love.
When you are at rest with God, start to ponder some aspects of your life.
– What are some aspects that you readily call ‘good’ – what might be negative about them? How could they undermine the life of faith, your relationships with others, your personal growth?
– What are some aspects that you would readily call ‘bad’ – what might be positive about them? How can they build up the life of faith, your relationships with others, your personal growth?
As you ponder these things, realise that the kingdom of God in our midst is growing, challenging and transforming us into a new creation that we will only understand when the fullness of God’s love is revealed.
Rest in the love of your God.