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July 23 2017 (A) Sixteenth Sunday of the Year

  1. The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
  2. Reflection & Dialogue: The beginnings and growth of the kingdom of God and of the church, a growth beyond bounds, despite weaknesses and scandals.

The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings).

First Reading (Book of Wisdom 12:13, 16-19). After sin you will grant repentance. In the context of the Book of Wisdom itself the author tells how God may punish Egypt and Canaan severely for their many sins, but he is merciful and patient and gives them the opportunity to repent and have their sins forgiven. For example, concerning Egypt the author says (Wisdom 11:23-24): “You are merciful to all, for you can do all things, and you overlook people’s sins so that they can repent. For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it”. The theme of this part of the book is God’s omnipotent power and mercy, a theme that is evident in today’s reading. God is omnipotent and he cares for everything. He can never judge unjustly. Quite the opposite: his strength is the source of justice, of righteousness. But he does rebuke insolence. But although he is omnipotent he is mild in judgment. By acting in this way he gives an example to nations and individuals that they should be kindly towards their fellow mortals. And he has given his people good hope that after any sin they can expect repentance from God.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 85[86]). O Lord, you are good and forgiving.

Second Reading (Romans 8:26-27). The Spirit expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words.

The liturgical readings for these Sundays lay great stress on this eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. Passages from it have been used as readings during the two preceding Sundays, and others will follow during the three Sundays to come. The chapter is replete with expressions of the Christian hope that comes from the Holy Spirit, hope for the individual and hope even for creation itself. In last Sunday’s reading Paul mentioned creation itself being subjected to futility, and awaiting to be set free from bondage to obtain the freedom that is proper to the glory of the children of God, groaning in pains as it were, while waiting for this liberation. And not merely creation, but believers under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit groan inwardly, awaiting he redemption of their bodies. Today’s reading follows this text. It is a most beautiful passage, speaking on the prayer of believers. Prayer is a central theme in Paul’s theology, as indeed in all Christian teaching. It could be that the present text is an independent unit, standing alone without reference to any immediate context. There is also the possibility that Paul’s thought and text flows from what has immediately preceded, on the groaning of nature and of the human soul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as they await the liberation believed proper to the glory as children of God. In this text believers experience their weakness and their inability to pray as they would wish, in keeping with God’s will. Paul comforts them, making them aware that the Holy Spirit prays for and within them. Believers, as mortals, do not quite understand their deepest desires, but the Holy Spirit does, and God, who searches the heart, knows what the Holy Spirit has read there and knows that the Holy Spirit in this prayer has been interceding for the saints, the members of the Christian community, according to the will of God. Most consoling thoughts for so many in doubt as to the quality of their prayer!

The Gospel (Matthew 13:24-43). Let the both grow till the harvest.

We are in chapter thirteen of Matthew’s Gospel, a chapter with a collection of Jesus’ parables. The collection was introduced last Sunday with the parable of The Sower, followed by Jesus’ explanation as to why he used parables in his teaching. The collection continue today with three parables, that have the common them of “parables of the kingdom”, in which the nature of the kingdom of God (“the kingdom of heaven” in the language of Matthew’s gospel) is compared with certain things: a field of good seed and cockles or weeds, a mustard seed become a large bush and tree, leaven. The first is about a good seed that a person sowed in his field, and the darnel, cockles or weeds that an enemy over sowed. The lesson to be drawn from the parable is that there will always be in the kingdom of God a mixture of the good and the bad, and believers must be patient, as God himself is. In the parable it is the devil who is represented as sowing the darnel, cockle or weeds. The early Church soon came to know that their own members could do this work of the devil.

The message to be drawn from the two other parables is the immense result in the kingdom, growing from small or very modest beginnings: the little grain of mustard seed becoming a great bush or tree, and the leaven, or yeast, permeating for its good an entire batch of bread.

 

  1. Reflection & Dialogue: The beginnings and growth of the kingdom of God and of the church, a growth beyond bounds, despite weaknesses and scandals.

A principle, and for some time past almost a catchword, among the learned and others is that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom and what resulted was the Church. It is true, of course, that Jesus preached the kingdom of God and that he did not mot use the term church, nor did he leave any constitution for the church that would emerge later. But he proclaimed the kingdom of God as the Father had wished him to do, and after he was anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism and acted under the guidance of that Spirit. It was under the guidance of the Risen Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, and in keeping with the will of the Father that the beginnings and the development of the church took place. Consequently, what Jesus says about the kingdom of God can be applied to the church.

This is particularly true of what is said about the kingdom of God in the parables presented to us in today’s readings, and in other parables as well. The church had small and weak beginnings but had tremendous growth and, so to speak, today many nations shelter in her shade.

But the development is not all in externals. The grace of God is within her as if it were a leaven, transforming her internally, the power and activity of the Holy Spirit transforming her from one degree on glory to another, as the apostle Paul would describe it.

In the media today there is rarely any reference to the church except in the case of some current or past scandal. This occasionally causes great upset to some believers, at times causing some to abandon the practice of the faith or to abandon the faith and the church altogether. They say that they can no longer see Christ in the Church. Such persons would be well advised to reflect on today’s parable of the good seed sown and the bad seed of cockle, darnel, and weeds over sown by the enemy. The parable represents an aspect of the kingdom and of the church of most ages, and will be so to the end of time. The Church of Christ is no assembly of saints, although all are called to holiness. It is a community in which the good, the less good and the bad exist side by side, often individuals of one kind become the other. Scandals, when they unfortunately arise, should not, cannot, show that the church we see is no longer Christ’s church. Scandals will come, but should not, and will not, impede the growth of the holiness that is proper to kingdom of God and to God’s Holy Church