7th Sunday After Pentecost

Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19

12:13 For neither is there any god besides you,
whose care is for all people,

12:16 For your strength is the source of righteousness,
and your sovereignty over all causes you to spare all.

12:17 For you show your strength when people doubt the completeness of your power,
and you rebuke any insolence among those who know it.

12:18 Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness,
and with great forbearance you govern us;
for you have power to act whenever you choose.

12:19 Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind,
and you have filled your children with good hope,
because you give repentance for sins.

Psalm 86:11-17

antiphon: You are a gracious & merciful God.
86:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
86:12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.

antiphon: You are a gracious & merciful God.

86:13 For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
86:14 O God, the insolent rise up against me; a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they do not set you before them.

antiphon: You are a gracious & merciful God.

86:15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

antiphon: You are a gracious & merciful God.
86:16 Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant; save the child of your serving girl.
86:17 Show me a sign of your favour, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame, because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.
antiphon: You are a gracious & merciful God.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

13:24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;

13:25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.

13:26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.

13:27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’

13:28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’

13:29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.

13:30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

31-32 Another story. “God’s kingdom is like a pine nut that a farmer plants. It is quite small as seeds go, but in the course of years it grows into a huge pine tree, and eagles build nests in it.”

33 Another story. “God’s kingdom is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of barley bread—and waits while the dough rises.”

34-35 All Jesus did that day was tell stories—a long storytelling afternoon. His storytelling fulfilled the prophecy:

I will open my mouth and tell stories;
I will bring out into the open
    things hidden since the world’s first day.

13:36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.”

13:37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;

13:38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one,

13:39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil;

the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.

13:40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.

13:41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers,

13:42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

13:43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
Let anyone with ears listen!

In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

For the third time in as many weeks we hear the teacher Jesus again asks “Are you listening? Really listening to me?” (11:15; 13:9; 13:43). And when a teacher repeats something its worth our paying attention! It is like, in the Eastern Liturgy, just before the deacon proclaims the readings, he declares, “Wisdom attend!” So it is worth hearkening & asking, “am I listening?” & “am I getting it?” (13:51). Graciously, in the school of discipleship, Teacher Jesus offers special ed for his oft’ dim disciples.

Particularly characteristic of the teacher Jesus is his use of parables. Jesus employs this genre to teach his followers about the reign (basilea) of heaven. Good teachers often use metaphors or analogies to make complex or abstract ideas easier to understand. Likewise, in this chapter, through a series of seven parables Jesus teaches his followers about the kingdom (basilea) of heaven. Beginning in 13:3, the word “parable” occurs twelve times in just this chapter; 13:10.13,18,24,31,33,34,35,36,53. The word derives from a Greek word meaning “to throw alongside.” παραβολή (parabolē) a placing one thing by the side of another; a comparing; a parallel case cited in illustration; a comparison, simile, similitude, Mk. 4:30Heb. 11:19; a parable, a short relation under which something else is figured, or in which that which is fictitious is employed to represent that which is real, Mt. 13:310131824313334365321:334522:124:32; in NT a type, pattern, emblem, Heb. 9:9; a sentiment, grave and significant precept, maxim, Lk. 14:7; an obscure and enigmatic saying, anything expressed in remote and ambiguous terms, Mt. 13:35Mk. 7:17; a proverb, adage, Lk. 4:23.  So, basic to the parable genre is the notion of comparison; one entity is set alongside something else to be illuminated by the comparison. Thus “the empire of the heavens” is “thrown alongside” or compared to and illuminated by the situations that each parable depicts (13:24, 31, 33, 44-45, 47).

In this gospel, the kingdom of heaven delineates differences between the realm of God’s kingdom and the kingdom of Roman emperor. As the people in the first century Mediterranean would have experienced it, the emperor’s kingdom is on earth. The kingdom of heaven is where God reigns. The act of Jesus coming into the earth represents the intrusive invasive advance, in breaking of the God’s kingdom on the earth (6:10). This makes explicit that the gospel, is indeed, a political declaration. The author is proposing an alternative understanding of the world, one that would directly oppose the political leaders of his time. As such, clear lines needed to be drawn. Which kingdom will prevail? Whose empire will you participate in?

The divisive impact of God’s empire is central to chapter 13. It is divisive in the sense that one must choose their allegiance — to God or to the emperor. This is attested most clearly in the parable of the weeds. Jesus begins this exposition by telling the crowd: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away” (Matthew 13:24). Immediately, the crowd is alerted to the fact that there is opposition to the kingdom of heaven; there is an enemy who seeks to do harm.

Opposition to the proclamation of the advancing reign of God as manifest in the teacher Jesus is at the core of understanding this scripture. The parable of the wheat and weeds offers a perspective on opposition to Jesus, and also speaks more generally to the persistence of evil in the world.
After explaining the parable of the seed and different types of ground, Matthew’s Jesus again employs an agricultural setting for the parable concerning weeds sown and growing among the wheat crop.

Jesus introduces the parable with a statement of comparison. The “empire of the heaven” is compared to the situation narrated in the parable (13:24). This introduction directs the audience to think about familiar agricultural situations as providing insight into the workings of God’s empire among human beings.

The parable’s scenario is initially similar to that of the previous parable in that it involves a sower sowing seed (13:3-9). As with the previous parable, the seed experiences difficulties.

Matt 13:24-30 and 36-43, the parable of the tares and its interpretation, recall in several respects 13:3-9 and 18-23, the parable of the sower and its interpretation. Not only are certain motifs–sowing, seeds, soil, kingdom, obstacles to growth, the devil or the evil one–repeated, but both parables stress that the victorious arrival of God’s good future is assured. The parallels are due to the fact that both parables and their interpretations address the same problem, namely, the failure of Jesus’ proclamation to win over collective Israel. Just as seed may fall upon different types of soil and just as weeds may be sown among wheat, so too is it with Jesus’ ministry: the good comes with the evil.
Similar to last Sunday’s pattern Jesus addresses the crowds with a parable (13:24-30), then offers the disciples an interpretation (13:36-43), hence the division in today’s reading. At verses 30-31, Matthew’s Jesus ends the parable and immediately begins another. In fact, he tells two more parables before offering an interpretation of the wheat and the weeds. He is only prompted to do so by the inquiring disciples (13:36). Once again this parable ends with the appeal — “let anyone with ears, listen” (13:43). The disciples ask Jesus confidentially about why he speaks in parables (13:10,36). After offering an explanation that emphasizes the divisive effect of the parables (13:11-17), he sets about explaining (13:37-43). Many scholars are critical of & question the authenticity of these secondary allegorical additions/explanations/interpretations. But the Church still offers them for our reflection.

The parable of the weeds is inevitably about eschatology and the last judgement. It is Jesus himself who introduces this understanding in his secondary explanation; “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man”. Jesus identification as the good seed sowing “Son of Man” is a Christological affirmation.

As in the previous parable of the sower, Jesus identifies the sower as himself, the Son of Man. The activity of sowing depicts his ministry of proclaiming and demonstrating (in healings and exorcisms for example) the presence of God’s empire or saving presence (1:21-23; 4:17). Jesus has also been identified previously as a householder or “master of the house” (10:25, the same word), as “Master” or Lord (8:2, 6, 8; 12:8), and as having slaves, an image for his disciples (10:24-25). Jesus has identified himself previously as the Son of Man in relation to his itinerant lifestyle (8:20) and his determination of how to honour the Sabbath (12:8). In this parable, verse 41 indicates that Son of Man denotes Jesus’ role as the eschatological judge. This dimension of the Son of Man reflects the figure of Daniel 7:13-14 whom God appoints as an agent of God’s purposes and rule after ending the empires of the world. The evoking of this tradition here puts his “sowing” activity and its impact into the perspective of the final judgement and end of the world’s empires. This dimension was missing from the earlier parable in 13:3-9. We will see this important Matthean image resurface again later particularly in chapter 25. The Good News, in this culminating chapter, just before the passion narrative, the Son of Man, seated as Judge, is specifically identified with the most vulnerable, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned. The One who judges shares our wounded humanity.

This is ultimately a parable about judgement, & like these parables, that disturbs us & makes us uncomfortable. We don’t like judgement. But if we read this parable carefully judgement makes its appearance long before just the end of the story. The “slaves” of the master make a presupposition=judgement when they accuse “Where, then, did these weeds come from? Did you not sow good seed in your field?” (13:37). Suggesting that the Sower/Master is somehow to blame & is implicated in this gnarly situation. “Why do(es) (You) God permit evil to grow and thrive? Our ancient propensity to point the finger, to deflect blame from ourselves resurfaces (Genesis 3:12,13). We are prone & fully prepared to leap to judging the Judge. Despite coming announcing God’s reign of mercy, welcome & forgiveness, teacher Jesus is rejected, judged, & eliminated. It is precisely this judged Son of Man who ultimately comes as Judge. This parable challenges us to refrain, to withhold judgement, & allow things to play out, to trust in God’s timing. To let God be God. The parable warns us that now is not the time to be presuming to know final outcomes. Nor can we forget God’s infinite and indiscriminate mercy celebrated in 5:45.

You would think that the difference between weeds and wheat would be obvious. In the parable, the slaves of the householder notice the difference right away. So why does the householder delay? Is it because we, the servants, are too hasty to judge which is which? Or because we are not in a position to judge (for example, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged” [7:1])? Or is it to extend God’s grace still longer? Or is it to allow us time to reflect on whether we are wheat or weeds?

Today’s parable like last Sunday’s, & as today’s hebrew scripture readings suggest, is actually all about God. What is this God Jesus comes proclaiming like? As today’s psalm antiphon repeatedly reminded us “You are a gracious & merciful God”. Who better to sort out justice than the One inclined to spare all (Wisdom 12:16), the One who judges mildly, with great forbearance (12:18), Who provides opportunity for repentance (12:19).

Who among us has not wanted to take matters into our own hands and root out the evil in our midst? You can just hear the eager buzz of the weed-wacker posse powering up! We whip ourselves into a weeding frenzy, certain that we know the difference between weeds and wheat, and that we know how to deal with the weeds! The forbearing merciful master stops the slaves from doing anything of the sort. For one thing, it is not so easy to tell the weeds from the wheat, and for another, their roots are intertwined below the ground. Rooting out the weeds would uproot the wheat as well, doing more damage to the crop than leaving the weeds to grow.

The difference between darnel and real wheat is evident only when the plants mature and the ears appear. The ears of the real wheat are heavy and will droop, while the ears of the darnel stand up straight. In the end, says the parable, judgement does come. Wheat and weeds are separated. Does that make us uncomfortable or fill us with hope, or a little of both? For those longing for Justice this is a parable offering encouragement & hope.

Jesus identifies the field where seed is sown as “the world,” the realm of everyday political, economic, social, and religious life dominated by Roman imperial power. Jesus’ activity invades this sphere of empire to sow “good seed” concerning another empire (“the word about the empire” 13:19). In its midst, he forms a distinct community. This community comprises “the children of the empire” who live lives shaped by God’s empire and committed to doing the will of God (12:50). But this community lives in contested space and is set in antithetical relation to those identified as “children of the evil one,” sown by the enemy, the devil (13:38-39). They coexist until “the harvest … the end of the age.” In the judgement the Son of Man divides “the righteous” from “all causes of sin and evildoers” (particularly the Jerusalem-based leaders who resist Jesus). He burns the weeds, and the righteous enjoy an existence marked by God’s saving presence (4:15-16). The parable ends with the familiar appeal to discern the significance of Jesus’ words and live appropriately in the present toward this future. “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

And just like last Sunday’s parable the importance of fecundity 30, 60, 100fold is manifest in the final harvest! The harvest is about celebrating the Lord’s gracious fruitful bounty! Today’s hymn (below) particularly captures & celebrates this bountiful harvest!

Eugene Peterson in his translation “The Message” designates verses 36 following under the superscription “the curtain of history”. The teacher Jesus is offering his disciples a vision of an alternate future, “the the final act”, where justice is moderated by gracious mercy & there is bountiful opportunity for repentance.  Let anyone with ears listen!

In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.


24-26 He told another story. “God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too.

27 “The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?’

28 “He answered, ‘Some enemy did this.’

“The farmhands asked, ‘Should we weed out the thistles?’

29-30 “He said, ‘No, if you weed the thistles, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.’”

31-32 Another story. “God’s kingdom is like a pine nut that a farmer plants. It is quite small as seeds go, but in the course of years it grows into a huge pine tree, and eagles build nests in it.”

33 Another story. “God’s kingdom is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of barley bread—and waits while the dough rises.”

34-35 All Jesus did that day was tell stories—a long storytelling afternoon. His storytelling fulfilled the prophecy:

I will open my mouth and tell stories;
I will bring out into the open
    things hidden since the world’s first day.

The Curtain of History

36 Jesus dismissed the congregation and went into the house. His disciples came in and said, “Explain to us that story of the thistles in the field.”

37-39 So he explained. “The farmer who sows the pure seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the pure seeds are subjects of the kingdom, the thistles are subjects of the Devil, and the enemy who sows them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, the curtain of history. The harvest hands are angels.

40-43 “The picture of thistles pulled up and burned is a scene from the final act. The Son of Man will send his angels, weed out the thistles from his kingdom, pitch them in the trash, and be done with them. They are going to complain to high heaven, but nobody is going to listen. At the same time, ripe, holy lives will mature and adorn the kingdom of their Father.

“Are you listening to this? Really listening?

the Reverend Brian Heinrich