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JULY 20, 2008: Sixteenth Sunday of the Year

Readings: 

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43

One of the most misunderstood gospel terms is the phrase "kingdom of God" or kingdom of heaven." It's a very significant concept. Jesus begins his public ministry with the proclamation, "The kingdom of God is close at hand!" To misunderstand the kingdom of God is to misunderstand the historical Jesus' ministry.

Scholars tell us this particular kingdom doesn't refer to the life we're expecting to experience after our physical death. It's the way Jesus describes God working in our lives right here and now. His earthly ministry revolves both around making people aware of God's actions and demonstrating the different facets of that kingdom. In teaching about the latter, he frequently employs parables to help his followers see that reality in ways most people never notice.

In today's three kingdom parables, Jesus insists we look at the small-to-large aspect of God's presence, and also reminds us that God doesn't just single out the good to work with. God's presence is to be surfaced in a "mixed world," a world inhabited by both wheat and weeds.

Jesus warns that a too zealous effort to make God's kingdom perfect on earth will result in lots of good people being uprooted with those we consider to be weeds. God will eventually take care of that part of the kingdom's work. Our job is to keep planting the wheat. Jesus thinks it's important to remind is that the kingdom is God's, not ours. When we attempt to take it over it ceases to produce the results God intends.

One of our main problems is that we want God's actions to appear against the background of fireworks and blasting trumpets. It takes a special person to surface God working in an action as insignificant as a minute mustard seed or a small hunk of yeast. In each case, it'll grow into something tremendously large, if only we take the time and make the effort to plant or mix those small elements into our daily lives. This seems to be why both the author of Wisdom and Paul stress our own human limitations.

The Wisdom writer zeroes in on God acting in our lives in spite of all the obstacles we place in God's path. "Though you (God) are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience, you govern us; for power, whenever you will, attends you." Instead of expecting us to be judges, God has a different job description for us. "You taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind."

Paul also presumes strong-willed, judgmental people aren't the individuals Jesus wants to sign up to be proclaimers of God's presence in our world. "The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness." The Apostle writes' "for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes with inexpressible groaning." True disciples have to admit they're not even certain themselves what to pray for. Without the Spirit's guidance they'd probably be praying for things which are against God's will.

Getting back to Jesus' wheat and weeds, how can we then be comfortable judging others' actions? Only "the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God's will." Often when we tear out the weeds impeding us from what we conceive of as our clear path of growth, we might actually e dead-ending God's plan of growth.

The Christian community is unlike any other organization. It proclaims a kingdom which makes sense only to God and those who give themselves over completely to God.