Even amid scandal, Christ wants his Kingdom to grow through you

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16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A: July 17, 2011
Wis 12:13, 16-19; Ps 86; Rom 8:26-27; Matt 13:24-43

The Kingdom of God is alive! The Kingdom of God is growing! Its growth will be astonishing, our Lord Jesus said. It will penetrate and pervade everywhere. And yet it will contain many problematic people, who sin and do evil and lead others to do so as well—and this will last until the final judgment. So it is not a simple picture.

Today our Gospel reading continues in the 13th chapter of Matthew, and Jesus continues telling parables about the Kingdom of God. Just like the parable of the sower that we heard last week, two of the parables that we hear today use the analogy of farming; and one uses the analogy of kneading dough in preparation for baking.

Now, notice that he does not say: “The kingdom of heaven has these borders, and this flag, and these key cities, and here is how you get there.” No, the Kingdom is not a static, stationary place. It is a living relationship that finds us and seeks to enter us and transform us, as we heard last week—if we will be like rich soil that welcomes the seed and allows it to grow and bear fruit in our lives.

But if last week’s parable considered our internal response to the word of the Kingdom—this week’s three parables ask: What happens when a person who accepts the Kingdom and is transformed by it, meets others and interacts with them? What happens in that external mix?

And our Lord Jesus says that what happens is growth that is astonishing and pervasive. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed … the smallest of all the seeds.” Well, almost the smallest. Think of a poppy seed: a mustard seed is 1/3 of its size, just 1 mm across. “Yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush.” The mustard tree or bush grows to between 8 and 12 feet tall. From that tiny seed!

And so it is with the Kingdom of God. It began with one man, Jesus, who also was true God, sent by the Father. And he handpicked 12 men, mostly fisherman, nobody’s idea of a crackerjack leadership team. But the Church has grown to the point that there are 1.1 billion Catholics in the world; and if you include Orthodox and Protestants, the number of Christians is over 2 billion, easily the largest religion in the world. From that tiny seed!

And then our Lord moves from the field to the kitchen. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” Three measures is about 50 pounds of flour, or enough to bake bread to feed 100 or 150 people. And one woman is going to knead all that dough! And that little bit of yeast is going to pervade all of it.

Now, this picture of yeast was often used as an analogy for evil, spreading everywhere, infecting everything it touched. Even Jesus used the analogy that way in a different saying. But here it’s the Kingdom, it’s goodness, it’s grace that is spreading and infecting everything! Everything rises; everything is touched by life; everything is touched by love. There’s no stopping the Kingdom.

There’s no stopping—you. For what part of the dough do you pervade, as you live your daily life? Where do you go; who do you meet, or work with, or relate to? And you; and you; and you? If we could chart where every person at this Mass, or in this parish, goes each day, and the people they touch, would that not be like yeast leavening dough? How amazing! As Cardinal Wuerl wrote to us last fall in his Pastoral Letter on the New Evangelization:

Our routine and commonplace tasks can be transformed into an urgent quest. … Every moment becomes a new opportunity to connect another person with the abundant Springtime that God promises. In this, we are protagonists of hope.

But some of you are thinking: “Father, I don’t know what world you’re living in. What kind of pollyanna, naïve, rose-colored vision is that? Haven’t you paid attention to the priest sexual abuse scandals of these many years, and the bishops who didn’t discipline them? Or don’t you see all the terrible things that are going on in the world around us? Or all the people who have left: the Catholics who don’t come to Mass anymore, the priests, the nuns; the schools that have closed? Don’t you see this? Where is this great vision of growth and transformation?”

I do see these things; and so did our Lord Jesus. And he gave us a picture of it in the other parable we hear today, the one that begins and ends today’s reading, the parable of the wheat and the weeds. For in the world and in the Church, he says, until the end of the age, there will be a mix of good people and bad, like wheat and weeds in the same field. Now the weeds in question looked just like wheat, until they were fully grown; and they were poisonous, so that if you harvested wheat and these weeds all together and ate them, they would give you severe nausea or worse. And in the parable, the master says, “Let them grow together until harvest.” Only then, at the final judgment, will they be separated and sent to the punishment of hell and the reward of heaven.

In other words, our Lord told us that all of this would be true at once. In the Church, there would be this astonishing growth; there would be this all-pervading penetration; and there would also be hypocrisy, scandal, and outright evil people sinning flagrantly and leading others to sin. But he has told us so. It is all part of his plan for redeeming the world.

So do not be surprised; and do not be discouraged, when someone you look up to fails you. Do not be discouraged if I fail you. And I will, somehow, I’m sure. But if I turn out to not be good enough, then you be better than me. If I am not holy enough, you be holier than me. If I don’t love Jesus enough, you love him more than me. If I don’t reach out in care to other people enough, then you reach out more than me. Whether it be a priest or a bishop, or your parents, or your teachers, or your spouse, or your children, or anyone else who fails you—you stay close to Christ; you follow him.

For the growth is real; the fruit is real; the transformation is real. The love of Christ is real. And if you stay close to him, he will touch others’ hearts and bring them along with you—saving them from the fiery furnace of hell, and bringing them to the glory of his kingdom. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.

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