Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
By Msgr. John N. Fell
In this Sunday’s Gospel, St. Matthew focuses our attention on the central theme of all Jesus’ preaching — the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom (Reign) of God refers to God’s dynamic Lordship over all creation, that is, to God’s will being fully embraced and executed by all he has made. Jesus’ mission was to proclaim the coming fullness of that Kingdom and to be its starting point; the Kingdom’s arrival was the “good news” that Jesus had come to announce. To his followers he left the task, guided by the Holy Spirit, of nurturing and spreading the Kingdom to its inevitable destiny of encompassing the entirety of creation.
The exact nature of the Kingdom of God remains somewhat of a mystery to us because of its imminent, yet future character. On the one hand, Jesus proposes the Kingdom as something which is present right in the midst of those with whom he is speaking; on the other, the Kingdom is also understood as something which must be allowed to spread and grow. Scholars sometimes refer to this paradox as the “already, but not yet” character of the Kingdom. The theme of the Kingdom, which began in the later Old Testament period, clearly possesses an eschatological character, that is, it points us to the future. The aim of all Christ’s disciples is to encourage the coming fullness of God’s Kingdom, to foster its growth here and now so as to hasten its future consummation.
In the present world, we learn that baptism is the means of entry into this Kingdom, that it demands a radical revision of moral conduct (the ways of the world must be set aside in order to embrace the ways of Jesus), and that it thrusts a fundamental choice upon each person — the choice of whether to accept God’s dynamic Lordship or not. The remainder of one’s life then becomes a matter of fully living out the implications of this crucial decision.
Because of its character as a mystery, we cannot achieve an exact definition of the Kingdom this side of eternity. We can, however, learn much about it from Jesus’ portrayal in the Scriptures. In fact, this Sunday’s Gospel provides us with three important pieces of information.
First, in the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30), we learn that the coming fullness of the Kingdom requires patience and discernment. The selection of those called to the Kingdom and those to be turned away from it is God’s decision. This parable cautions us that the good person and the evil one are sometimes hard to distinguish clearly. The point is to leave the judgment of who is worthy of the Kingdom and who is not to God — God’s mercy far exceeds human patience; as the writer of the Book of Wisdom exclaims — though God is “master of might, [he] judges with clemency, and with much lenience [God] governs us.” (Wis 12:18)
The second story in this Sunday’s Gospel is the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mathew 13:31-32). In this parable, Jesus is referring to the humble beginnings of the Kingdom, which caused something of a scandal among his contemporaries — remember, they were waiting for a glorious ruler or conquering general. Instead, they got a small child laying in a manger in Bethlehem. From this tiny beginning, by the force of Jesus’ teaching and the continuing witness of his disciples, this Kingdom is destined to embrace the entirety of creation.
Jesus’ final story is the Parable of the Yeast (Matthew 13:33). This parable brings the consoling revelation that the ultimate fulfillment of the Kingdom of God is inevitable. Just as yeast, once kneaded into dough, will eventually cause the whole mass to rise, so also the Kingdom of God, now that it has come into the world, can never again be fully divorced from it. Even though it will encounter great opposition, the Kingdom of God will eventually succeed in its intended effect of transforming the whole of creation into the divinely promised eternity of justice, peace, and joy. The challenge that goes forth to all those who hear today’s Gospel is to assume our role in hastening the long-awaited, coming fullness of this Kingdom. Our mission is to take all the good that we imagine and hope for in heaven and to work diligently to make them real here and now.
Msgr. Fell is a Scripture scholar and pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Bernardsville