Am I living my life as a weed or a stalk of wheat ? (See Matthew 13:24-30).
This weekend is the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings can be found here. The reflection comes from Living Space run by the Irish Jesuits and has a wonderful discussion of today’s Gospel and the meaning of the phrases “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” and how it applies to our individual lives. I encourage you to read the entire reflection here but set forth below is an extended summary:
Nature of the ‘Kingdom’
“Kingdom” in the Gospel does not refer to a place, either here or hereafter. The Greek word basileia (basileia) is better translated as ‘kingship’, or ‘reign’, or ‘rule’, so some translations speak of the ‘Reign of God’. The Kingdom is primarily an environment, it is a set of relationships, it is a situation where God’s values prevail. And what are God’s values? In practice, they are the deepest human values and aspirations as mirrored in the life of Jesus, who is himself the revelation of God to us in accessible human form. These values include truth, love, compassion, justice, a sense of solidarity with all other human beings, a sense of trust in other, a deep respect for the dignity of every other human person, a holistic concept of human growth and development. And, of course, all these are seen in the light of God, who is their Ultimate Source. It is to be like him and with him that we live according to these values. They, with and through Jesus, are our link with Him.
People who, individually and collectively, try to live these values belong, with Jesus, to the Kingdom of God. They are united with the rule of God in trying to build a world we would all like to see happen. It is very much something for the here and now. It is basically the vocation of the Church, and therefore the vocation of every parish community and of every member of that community. At the same time, we need to recognise that the Kingdom and the Church are not co-terminous (cf. the parable below). The Kingdom extends beyond the Church. There certainly are people, who may not explicitly know Christ or express allegiance to Christ, who yet live the ideals and the values of the Kingdom in their lives. Prophetic characters like Mahatma Gandhi or the Dalai Lama must surely be such examples. On the other hand, we cannot say we belong to the Kingdom simply because we are baptised Church members but only in so far as the vision of the Kingdom is an effective factor of our daily living.
Weeds and wheat
In today’s Gospel reading we have three images or parables of the Kingdom at work among us. The first is the parable of the weeds among the wheat. The Kingdom of God clearly calls for people of the highest ideals and great generosity. It also calls for a great measure of tolerance, patience and understanding in seeing the Kingdom become a reality. The conversion of our societies into Kingdom-like communities is a very gradual process. There is always the danger that, when people try to take God or the good life seriously, they become elitist. We Christians, simply as Christians, can feel superior to people of other religions or none. As Catholics we can talk disparagingly of Anglicans, Protestants, Evangelicals. And even among Catholics, members of charismatic groups, Legionaries, Bible study groups, social action groups can see themselves as ‘superior’ to ‘ordinary’ Catholics who ‘only’ go to Mass on Sundays. And the Sunday mass-goers are a cut above those who only appear at the Christmas midnight Mass.
And, in general, we ‘decently moral people’ are ahead of the ‘thugs’, ‘louts’ and other ‘undesirables’ in our society. “Shoot the yobbos” screamed a headline on a newspaper front page some time ago. Both “shoot” and “yobbo” are words of violence and intolerance. We sanctimoniously set ourselves up as judges of others. It is a trend which is increasingly being found in our daily press and television, and they presumably reflect the interests and values of readers and viewers (among whom one can, alas, find “good” Catholics).
Living side by side
Hence, today’s parable far from being remote touches on deep areas in the lives of all of us. The parable is saying that people who are filled with the vision and values of God and Jesus must learn to live side by side with a whole spectrum of people who, in varying degrees, do not yet share or live this vision and these values. This applies to differences between Christians and non-Christians but also within Christian communities themselves. We are – and always will be – a sinful Church. To pretend that we are anything else is a lie. It is not the healthy who need the physician Jesus but the sinners and tax collectors. You and me.
We can go even further. Each one of us is a combination of wheat and weeds. In each one of us there are elements of the Kingdom and elements that are deeply opposed to it. Paul recognised that struggle within himself (cf. Romans 7:21-25). So we need to learn how to be tolerant with our own weaknesses. God told Paul that it was precisely through his weaknesses that he could reveal his glory. “My power is made perfect in [your] weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The coming of the Kingdom then is not going to be a neat and tidy process. And experience again and again confirms that fact, whenever we try to bring out change and reforms in any community.