Sunday, July 23, 2017

Fields and souls

today's homily [ Lectionary Isaiah 44:6-8; Ps 86:11-17; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43]
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 is part of a wider collection of parables, many of them rural farm stories. The images, taken from the peasant's daily life, shed light on the mystery of God's rule. Jesus implies that God created a good world but an enemy's hand has introduced evil. We can assume that Satan is the "evil one." This is another example of the Two Kingdoms theology. Humans align with the competing Kings, God or Satan.

[It is important to understand "Kingdom of Heaven" does not mean heaven. Matthew, the good Jew, is using a circumlocution ("round about way of saying") to avoid speak the holy name God. So heaven is a respectful reference to God. Kingdom is not an area or place, it is the reign, those under the authority of the King. So, the first reference may be paraphrased, "This is how God is running His creation." In other words, Jesus is explaining how the world we live in works. The parable, therefore, is an illustration.]

The obvious solution, pull up the weeds, is ruled out as. In the Middle East, some weeds initially look like wheat, however, the agricultural image really illustrates the more complex human reality. St. Augustine reminds us that humans, unlike seeds, can change. Jesus' story describes the world, full of good and bad, waiting for the final judgment. In apocalyptic theology that is called "the harvest." Until then, God bides His time, giving us space to choose. However, such personal choices are both corporate and individual. 'I decide' and 'we decide' for or against God.

The bad seed is planted while people slept. The field is the entire society, oblivious to the false values, false beliefs and sinful passions which turn her from God. Later interpretation focused on the individual soul as the field, the individual can be unaware of the dangerous thoughts and desires at work within himself or herself. The fourth century bishop Chromatius calls this the sleep of infidelity. Good seed--elsewhere called the Word of God--is planted in our hearts. Our destiny is to be children of God. But the enemy sows seed of bad thoughts which take root while we are inattentive--asleep. The mixture of good and bad, in society and in each of us, produces mixed results. The spiritual discipline of watchfulness, guarding the mind from bad thoughts and the heart from evil passions, is impossible to those who sleep. As more bad seeds take root and grow, it crowds out the good seed. Jesus calls us to wakefulness: trusting Him in a disciple's life of prayer, Scripture and service. The church is meant to be faithful; a space for holy thoughts and godly desires which open us to the Holy Spirit so the Word can take root and grow. Too often, we are seduced by the lie that small things are no big deal. "God understands," we console ourselves.  However, tiny seeds become big weeds, small thoughts and little desires grow into large sinful behaviors. We do well to remember that a plug which is 1/2 inch from the socket is as disconnected as one which is a hundred miles away.

We should hear Romans 8 in this context. All creation groans--the world, a sad mix of wheat and weeds, longs to be redeemed. Each of us and all of us share in the longing for deliverance. In one sense, it is too late for us, the seeds long planted are grown and continue to spread; we must stand firm and await the harvest. The Good News, Jesus says, is some day God will come to judge the living and the dead, separating out the weeds from the wheat. The Bad News is, some day God will come to judge, and we have been willing to slumber away while the weeds are sown and grown within us. The unspoken message? Repent! Individually and corporately, we can choose to return to the Lord. This is our choice and it is our message to the world!

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