Sunday Homily, July 19, 2020
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A
by Fr. Claude Perera, OMI
Theme: Humanly Incomprehensible Mercy of God Who Gives Evildoers Time to Repent
Philanthropy of God.
Psalm: Psalm 86:5-6,9-10,15-16
A Plea for God’s Mercy
The Spirit Intercedes on Our Behalf.
13:24-43 (shorter form: Matthew 13:24-30)
Parable of Darnels Growing Along with Wheat
Background on the Gospel Reading
Last Sunday, we started reading the Parabolic Discourse of Matthew in his 13th chapter. Today, we continue the same chapter. In today’s Gospel, we would hear three Parables of the Kingdom together with the interpretation of the first one.
The Book of Wisdom in the OT from which first reading taken is most likely the last book in the OT to be written, probably around 50 BCE, on the verge of the dawn of the NT. It was one of the few books of the OT, not written within the confines of Palestine. It is surmised to have been written in Alexandria for the Jewry in the diaspora. By now, the Jewry in both Palestine and in the Diaspora have gone through many downfalls as a nation. There were three sources of their troubles, namely, violation of the covenant by the people, bad local rulers, and foreign dominations by Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. People and their kings violated the covenant. Foreign domination led them to political and economic serfdom as well as the infiltration of foreign culture and religious syncretism. First, with the prophets, and then later, the sages bemoaned this situation. As the author of the Book of Wisdom composed his work, he had in mind this whole sad historical background. He witnessed the atrocities done by the Greeks in Alexandria in Palestine. He k now of the Roman atrocities in Palestine. He would have foreseen also worse scenarios to come after 30 BCE with the Romans occupation in Alexandria. The natural reaction of any patriotic Jew would be to call upon fire and brimstone from heaven to exterminate their enemies. But the author of the Book of Wisdom had understood the true nature of divine wisdom. That is why he said that God’s sovereignty does not make Him a tyrant who wields power to crush the weakling and the sinner but spares them. God judges the sinner with clemency. With forbearance, He governs His people. This was beautifully instantiated a little earlier in Wis 12:8, where the author said that as the Israelites were making their sojourn in the desert, God could have sent his divine armies to exterminate the enemy nations like the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites. But He did not do that because of his tremendous philanthropy. Instead, he sent them hornets to give them a warning of worse future so that they may fear the God of Israel.
This kind of OT writings prepared the people of Israel for the greater revelation in Jesus Christ, whom Pope Francis I in his Apostolic Exhortation called Jesus rightly, Vultus Misericordia Dei (‘the Face of God’s Mercy’). In today’s gospel, we see how Jesus reveals that merciful face of the Father. It is a pity that in several English translations, this parable is called the Parable of the Weeds among Wheat. The word ‘weeds’ is mistranslation of the Greek original ziznia of which the botanical name is Lolium Temulentum. This was not just any weed, but a special kind of a weed, namely, ‘darnel,’ ‘cockle,’ or ‘tares’ in English. The Greek word ziznia comes from Hebrew zunm from which was derived the word zn meaning, ‘fornication.’ In fact, this weed cockle was called the ‘bustard weed’ by the Hebrews. What was the reason for that? Both wheat and cockle look alike as they are growing. Only when the plants begin to head out, they could be distinguished. But by then the roots are much intertwined, if one pulls the cockle plants, wheat plants also will come out. Thus, the owners waited till the harvest. At harvest both were cut together, and then, women were clever is separating the wheat from the cockle, and the cockle seeds were burnt in fire.
This is exactly what Jesus explained in today’s parable. Jesus the wise teacher, used this reality from the agricultural life of Palestine and turned it into a metaphor to speak of God’s infinite mercy towards the wrong doer. God lets both the good and bad co-habit. He gives the sinners many chances to change. If they do not change their ways, punishment will be meted out only at the end. Is this not the reality we experience often in our families, workplaces, or towns as well as in the world at large? What do we do with such bad people? Do we want to exterminate them? The natural tendency would be that. But that is not the divine pedagogy. That is not the way divine wisdom operates. Who are we to judge? Let God be the judge. Such wisdom is entirely different and at times diametrically opposed to our human and jurisprudential wisdom, motivated by the law of retaliation and vendetta. Law of retaliation was the law of Moses. Jesus relativized the law of Moses during the Sermon on the Mount. See how Jesus speaks in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘You have heard how it was said to our ancestors, You shall not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. . But I say this to you, anyone who is angry with a brother will answer for it before the court; anyone who calls a brother “Fool” will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and anyone who calls him “Traitor” will answer for it in hell fire. (Mt 5:21-22) Are we not followers of that Jesus who was the true face all merciful Father who gives the sinner time to repent?