Proclaiming the kingdom of God was central to the life of Jesus. Jews of Jesus’ day understood that God was a king and that his kingdom would be established at the end of time. At the same time on earth there was a clash of kingdoms between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of evil. Jesus preached that the kingdom of God was being established through his healings, teachings and exorcisms. As he began his preaching, Jesus exhorted the crowds to accept the kingdom of God through opening their hearts to his Good News and through turning away from sin and turning to God.
In today’s Gospel Jesus explains the meaning of the kingdom using three parables.
A set of experiences in my life help me to understand the first parable. When I was pastor in Lake Providence, I used to visit the parish prison each Wednesday. My purpose in visiting the prison was simply to allow the prisoners to live out their Catholic faith and in so doing to encounter Jesus Christ. I would celebrate a Communion Service with the prisoners. During the four years I visited that prison there was one man that stood out. Although he was in prison, he was a man of leadership and character. As a result, he was respected by the other prisoners. Given his older age he was given the nickname Pop. When I entered the prison one Wednesday morning, I was told that Pop had died. I had a sense that Pop was in heaven. I never asked Pop what he did to be placed in prison but that never mattered. Judgment of him could have been an obstacle to his journey to eternal life.
In the first parable a householder sowed wheat in his field. While he was sleeping his enemy came and sowed weeds in the midst of the wheat. When the owner learns of the weeds, he allows them both to grow together instead of pulling up the weeds and possibly destroying the wheat as well. His response is one of tolerance and patience. The parable shows that God gives sinners the opportunity to repent as they prepare for their final experience of the kingdom.
The Gospel challenges us to be patient and forgiving. We should be patient with others knowing that separation of the good and bad will come at the Last Judgement. God is patient with sinners but demands conversion. The reading does not call us to accept evil in the kingdom; instead we are to help others to turn from sin.
I find another meaning in this parable. Not only does this Gospel call us to see the good and bad in others and to not judge those who have sinned, but the parable also reminds us that each of our lives are made up of good and evil thoughts and actions. We are called to recognize the good and the bad and to improve the good aspects of our lives and to change that which separates us from God. We are to respect ourselves for who we are and always to change the sinfulness of our lives which is in need of change.
Jesus says that the kingdom is like a mustard seed as it is a very small but becomes a large bush. In the same way the kingdom of God begins small and grows large. The parable shows that the growth of the kingdom is hidden and mysterious. Even though it
seems that the kingdom is hidden we can be confident that in fact it is present and that God is in control of its growth. While we are not in control of the kingdom, God uses us as instruments for its growth. This should give us a sense of confidence to our journey through this life.
Jesus also presents the kingdom as being like the leaven a woman kneads in three measures of flour. The leaven causes the whole mass of dough to rise. Three measures of flour would provide a meal for more than 100 persons. The parable shows that the growth of the kingdom is characterized by astonishing results. The bishops of The Second Vatican Council used the image of leaven as an image of baptized Christians who are to change society from within and make the world holy. We are to see ourselves as Christians who make our world holy.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that the kingdom of God began in the life and teaching of Jesus. We who experience the kingdom of God on earth will experience its fulness in eternal life. While we experience the challenges of this world, we are to remember that God is in control of the growth of the kingdom. The kingdom begins small and continues to grow, even if in a mysterious way. Our task is to cooperate with our merciful God in allowing the kingdom to grow.