The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

First Reading Wisdom 12:13,16-19
Second Reading Romans 8:26-27
Gospel Matthew 13:24-43

“‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.’”

Weeds and wheat. Jesus’ first parable in today’s Gospel passage is simple. But like the grain of wheat itself, it can bear much fruit.

Saint Augustine of Hippo, the greatest teacher of the Catholic Faith in the Church’s first millennium (at least, after the close of the apostolic age), wrote one of his three greatest works on this parable’s theme. While On the City of God grows from the simple truths heard in today’s brief parable of seven verses, it is a massive work of 22 books. In this work St. Augustine shows how complex and messy the world can be as weeds and wheat grow amidst each other.

St. Augustine’s masterpiece is in fact a contrast between “the city of God” and “the city of man”. This contrast is analogous to the parable’s consideration of the wheat and the weeds. But it’s not a simplistic contrast between Heaven and earth: a contrast that condemns this world in which we live. Nor is it a simplistic contrast between the Church and the state, with the Church being presented as flawless.

At the beginning of the 21st century the Church lives in a precarious setting. Not only are foundational moral truths being rejected within Western society. The Church herself is at pains to preach the fullness of Christ’s moral teaching. This difficulty stems in part from her credibility being diminished by the scandalous actions of her leaders. With this two-fold attack—from without and from within—in mind, we ought to consider Jesus’ parable.

We might begin reflecting on this parable by asking a question. Who exactly are the weeds, and who are the wheat? At the end of the long form of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus explains the parable: “the good seed” are “the children of the kingdom”, while the “weeds are the children of the evil one”. But how are we practically to apply this explanation to our own day?

Perhaps another saying from our Lord could help us. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” [Luke 6:42]. In other words, in seeking to apply the parable of the weeds and the wheat to the real world of today, each of us ought to begin with the real weeds in one’s own soul. From there each of us could move on to consider the weeds elsewhere in one’s family, parish, country and Church.

Short of the Blessed Virgin Mary, there is no disciple without weeds in his soul. In your case as in mine, then, the parable describes the Christian spiritual life. You are a “child of the kingdom” by the grace of God, beginning on the day of your baptism. You are also a “child of the evil one” by your sins: actions, thoughts and words, done and left undone.

Between the day of your baptism and the day of the “harvest” (that is, the day of your death), you are free to cultivate your spiritual life. You are free to break up hard soil of your soul through acts of penance and humility, so that the good seed of your life in Christ will bear abundant fruit even during your earthly days. You are free to soak the soil with tears of repentance and the Blood of Christ, so that the good seed will lead you to eternal life.

You must also be patient, like the parable’s householder, who is God our Father. For you are free also to sin in this life: to allow weeds to proliferate in your soul. God, in His paternal love, does not force anyone to reform his life. God’s providential love judges us only three times: the first is when we present ourselves for judgment in Confession, and the second is at the hour of our death. At that hour, God sifts our souls as described in the parable. We might think of this sifting in terms of the state of Purgatory, and in terms of the final decision of God that we deserve either the burning fate of the weeds, or the gathering into God’s barn.