Saturday of Week 16 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Matthew 13:24-30

Today’s passage from the Parables of the Kingdom is found only in Matthew’s Gospel. It is about the planting of seed, but the concern is quite different, and it again 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: 1) members who are seen as falling short of the Church’s requirements in faith and behavior are gotten rid of, or 2) and perhaps more commonly, those who see themselves more committed form a relatively closed group, i.e. 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 the scandals of our age (and scandal has existed all across the time of the church) and have left the Church because of them. To do so is to 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.

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