Saturday of week 16 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on Exod 24:3-8

Parables of the Kingdom (cont’d)

The next parable, which is only found in Matthew, is also about the planting of seed but the concern is quite different and again it reflects the experience of the early Church.

A man has sown good seed in his field but, unknown to him, an enemy has come and planted weeds among the wheat. As the plants come up the farmer sees the weeds growing all through his wheat. His slaves want to pull them out but the farmer tells them to wait until the harvest time. The wheat and the weeds are similar in appearance in the early stages and it will be much easier to differentiate them as they mature. In the meantime, let both grow side by side.

This is a picture of the Kingdom and also of the Church which is trying to be part of it. For the early Church more distressing in many ways than persecution from outside must have been betrayal and shortcomings on the inside. There would have been a strong temptation immediately to get rid of such people. But wiser heads prevailed. Wait. Let God be the judge and, in any case, people can change. The sinner of today may be the saint of tomorrow.

This has been a problem all through the history of the Church and today is no exception. There is always a strong temptation among those who feel themselves more committed to living out the Gospel to adopt an elitist approach to the faith. This can take two forms: either members who are seen as falling short of the Church’s requirements in faith and behaviour are got rid of, or, which may be more common, those who see themselves more committed form a relatively closed group, a church within a church. There has been a certain amount of tension over such situations with the appearance of a number of Catholic movements in recent times.

Today’s parable reminds us of something very important, namely, that the Church is and always will be a Church of sinners and for sinners. Our Church is, as Paul puts it, a vessel of clay, leaking and easily broken. At the same time, we have been called to help bring about the Kingdom in our world and we have constantly to try to do that. But we need to distinguish between the vessel and its contents, the weeds and the wheat, to distinguish between the Christian vision and the Church which tries to communicate it.

Some have been disturbed by so-called ‘scandals’ and some have left the Church because of them. This, I feel, is not to understand today’s parable. These scandals far from undermining the Christian vision only affirm it. That vision remains a shining ideal. But the Church, which is not to be identified with the vision, is the flawed and fragile bearer of that vision. It has always been so and always will be. The Church is called to proclaim the Kingdom but it has to struggle to realise that Kingdom in itself also. 

Today’s parable is a call for tolerance, patience, compassion and understanding while not compromising on the vision that comes to us from Jesus.

 

The giving of the Decalogue at Mount Sinai is followed in the book of Exodus by the Book of the Covenant, a list of ordinances and laws concerning subjects like the treatment of slaves, murder and injury, theft of animals, matters demanding compensation, duties towards enemies, the sabbath and great feasts.

Today’s reading gives us the solemn ratification of a covenant between God and his people based on the teaching that God has given to Moses.

After Moses had told the people of all the words and ordinances he had received from the Lord, the people answered with one voice: “We will do everything that the Lord has told us.” Moses then committed all the words of the Lord to writing. 

Early the next day, he set up an altar with twelve pillars at the foot of the mountain, each pillar representing a tribe of Israel. God was symbolically represented by the altar and the people by the twelve pillars surrounding it.

He then sent young men to offer holocausts and sacrifices of young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. By burning them completely, they indicated that they were being given back to God in their entirety.

Moses then took half of the blood of these animals and put it in large bowls. The rest of the blood he splashed on the altar.

He read the Book of the Covenant to all the people and again they replied: “All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do.”

Finally, he took the blood in the bowls and sprinkled it on the people, saying:

“This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.”

In this way God and his people were united in one purpose. Their intentions were good but, as we shall see, they did not always live up to their solemn promises.

Moses here acts as mediator between God and the people, a priestly role. He unifies them symbolically by sprinkling the blood of a single victim first on the altar, which represents Yahweh, and then on the people. In this way the pact is ratified by blood. 

We can see here foreshadowings of our own covenant sacrifice with God which we do through, with and in Jesus Christ. The “blood of the new covenant” is that of Jesus himself. The altar is the cross and the priest and victim are both Jesus. In the same way, the New Covenant is ratified by the blood of Christ. “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out in behalf of many for the forgiveness of sin” (Matt 26:28). Jesus pours out not the blood of animals but his own blood on the altar of the cross.

Like the Israelites of old, we many times fail to live up to the promises we make in our covenant with Christ. Indeed, we begin every Eucharist with the confession of our sins and failings.

As we celebrate this Eucharist today let us renew our covenant promises and beg Jesus to help us do so.

GOSPEL (Matthew 13:24-30)

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