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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
There is no god besides you who have the care of all, that you need
show you have not unjustly condemned. For your might is the source of justice;
your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all. For you show your
might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved; and in those who
know you, you rebuke temerity. But though you are master of might, you
judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us; for power, whenever
you will, attends you. And you taught your people, by these deeds, that
those who are just must be kind; and you gave your children good ground
for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.
Brothers and sisters, in the same way, the Spirit also helps our
weaknesses; for we do not know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit
himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be expressed.
He who searches the hearts knows what is on the Spirit's mind, because
he makes intercession for the saints according to God's will.
Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying: "The kingdom
of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
He proposed another parable to them. "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'"
He spoke to them another parable.
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world.
Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples
approached him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the
field." He said in reply, "He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,
the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom.
The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them
is the devil.
* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published
numerous articles and reports.
** Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.
For your convenience, the
Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the
Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright ©
1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C.,
may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic
you remember that Jesus told us a parable about Godís word and how important
that word is in forming us -- each one of us, individually, but also all
of us together as a community. Jesus really wants us to listen to
the word that he proclaims, to let that word begin to grow within us and
change us. And so, today, Jesus teaches us again through parables.
However, itís important for us to remind ourselves of what a parable is. Itís a very distinct kind of a story and Jesus uses many of them. We heard 3 of them today; many short, busy stories that have many possible understandings.
Thatís the unique thing about a parable; itís open ended. You canít say that this is the exact meaning of it. Rather, Jesus wants us to explore the parable and to think about it and to try to say how that parable would instruct me today in this time and place in my life. And so these parables are good throughout the entire the history of the church, from the very beginning when Jesus first proclaimed them to today. Everyone can take a parable and find a way that it applies to me or to our community.
In todayís parables, Jesus is instructing us about the kingdom of heaven or, in the words that I used, the reign of God. Because I think those words say it better of what Jesus is really talking about when he says Ďthe kingdom of is like a farmer who sows seed in his field and so onÖí Jesus isnít thinking of the kingdom of heaven as a place where we will go after we die. We might, but we would totally misunderstand the parables if we began to think of them that way.
No, the reign of God is what itís about. And for Jesus, and those who lived in his time, the reign of God meant Godís presence among us; Godís work within us and among us; God bringing about a change in human society, making it better, making it come closer and closer to what it will be when Godís will is fully implemented within the lives of each of us and all of us together.
The reign of God means God at work among us. ďThe reign of God,Ē Jesus tells us at one point, ďis at hand; itís right here.Ē God is working among us right now. And so when we listen to todayís parable, what do we discover about this reign of God, God working among us right now? How do these parables instruct us?
Well, first of all, I think we have to remind ourselves that when we talk about Godís work among us we will sometimes be very surprised at the way God works among us.
In that passage from Isaiah that made up our first lesson last Sunday, where Isaiah talked about the word of God coming down like rain from the heavens, Isaiah also says this about God and the word of God: ďFor my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways. Whereas the heavens are above the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.Ē
So thatís a very important caution to us as we try to understand what Jesus is saying to us in these parables about God at work among us. Godís ways are not our ways and Godís thoughts are not our thoughts. They are very different and sometimes we limit Godís word very much by trying to confine it to the way we think and the way we act. Our ways and Godís ways are different.
And so in the first parable what did the servants want to do? Immediately, they came, after they discovered that the weeds had been planted among the good seed, to destroy it. Get those weeds out of there. But God says, ďNo. No, donít act so quickly. You may make a mistake and pull out the good seeds with the weed seeds.Ē Only God really would know what are the good and what are the evil.
In the world in which we live, it seems that thereís a very important caution for us that we could draw from this parable. We live at a time where we are at war and our president seems to be so clear about who are the good and who are the bad. And weíre going to kill all the bad ones. Either youíre on our side or youíre against us, because we know.
But it might not be quite so clear who are the good and who are the bad. And weíre discovering, in fact, for the first time, today, on the front page of The New York Times, right in the most prominent part of the front page, thereís a story about the innocent people that weíre killing in Afghanistan. Inside, thereís a whole page with pictures showing how, in our attempt to destroy the weeds as we think of them, we are destroying innocent, good people, among the poorest people in the world.
So maybe we shouldnít be acting so precipitately. Maybe we shouldnít be acting with such violence, like we know who is good and who is bad, and weíll kill those who are bad. In fact, I think that in many other parts of the world people might look upon us, if they judged the same way we, do as the bad.
I came across a list the other day in an article by the Indian novelist Arundahati Roy. She points out that, since World War II, the United States has in fact been at war and been has bombing. And she lists China, Korea, Guatemala, Indonesia, Cuba, Zaire, Peru, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Libya, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Bosnia, Iraq, Sudan Ö and now Afghanistan.
No other nation in the world has been at war so much as we have. And is it possible that we go to war so often because we think we know who are good and who are bad? But only God knows. Only God really knows.
And perhaps we are the ones that, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, are the greatest purveyors of violence in all of human history.
So the teaching for us in that first parable is very important -- donít be so quick to judge -- in our individual lives, but certainly now as a nation. Donít be so quick to say weíre the good and they are the bad. Donít be so quick to say youíre either on our side or youíre against us and weíll do to you what we want.
We have to learn. God knows who are good and who are bad, we have to learn Godís ways. And Godís ways are not the ways of violence and killing. We have to learn Godís thoughts and Godís thoughts are not toward hatred and destruction. Godís ways are for peace, for forgiveness, for love as we heard in the first lesson today.
Our God is a merciful god, a God who, yes, will work for justice, but who is also very merciful, loving and forgiving. A God who will ultimately bring peace as this God works among us.
And so the reign of God is slowly coming to its fullness. But we must learn how to participate in it according to what this parable teaches us.
The other parable about the yeast, I think, is very clear. Itís reminding us that God is truly at work transforming our world and transforming each one of us. Thereís good and bad in every one of us. Sometimes, weíre so conscious of the bad within us that we hardly think well of ourselves. But thereís good in us also and God is at work within us, transforming us, making that goodness come to itís fullness as we listen to Godís word every week; as we listen to Jesus guiding us, shaping us, forming us.
And, finally, the parable about the mustard seed is one that, I think, ought to give us great hope. Because, sometimes, as we think about whatís happening in the world around us and we say God is at work within our world, the reign of God is at hand, but we donít see it, it doesnít really seem to be there.
Jesus is saying the reign of God is like the tiniest of seeds that can and will burst into a fullness of life into one of the biggest bushes possible out of this tiny seed. And, sometimes, it happens, where a tiny seed that someone never expected to bear much fruit does, in fact, become this big bush.
Over a hundred years ago, during the time of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln had a friend whom he called him Double D Addams because his last name was Addams (with 2 dís). So the president teased his good friend Double D Addams. And Double D Addams was someone who was very active in the abolitionist movement, trying to bring about the end of slavery, bring justice for all those tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands who had been put into slavery. And, one day, his daughter, Jane Addams, discovered him weeping. And he said, ďThe greatest man in the world has just been killed.Ē Abraham Lincoln had been shot and Mr. Addams thought that that would end all hope for freeing the slaves and making true justice come. Lincoln had already emancipated them, the slaves, but to make justice happen for them was something else.
But his daughter took inspiration from him and she began to work among the poorest of the poor and especially those who had been released from slavery but were living in extreme poverty. She developed tenement houses and programs for them. And one person who became very enthralled with her work after 20, 25, 30 years, was a man named Miles Horton. He went and investigated what Jane Addams was doing. He then went back to Tennessee where he lived began a school where he wanted to train white people and black people together and to raise the awareness among the black people, especially, about their rights and how justice is due to them and so on.
And so he started this school and after it had been in existence for a number of years--all of this took place over about 75 to 80 years--he talked to Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. and asked him, ďIs there any member of your church that might profit by coming to this school?Ē Dr. King recommended to him Rosa Parks. And so she went. Six weeks after she graduated from the school, she refused to give up her place in the bus. And the whole civil rights movement was on its way.
So from a very tiny seed that no one would have been able to see the outcome burst forth into a movement that brought about civil rights finally for black people in our nation.
To me, thatís the kind of story that can give us hope.
There are many examples of things like this, where some tiny, tiny action that anyone of us might do can have a rippling effect and we never know the outcome. But it could be something marvelous and good.
So what Jesus tells us is really true. The reign of God is like that tiny mustard seed. God is at work among us and God is changing each of us and our world. And at some point, the reign of God will fully happen in my life and your life.
And, finally, too, the reign of God will come to itís fullness in our world. What Jesus tells us is true. We must have a profound confidence and faith in this word. Let that word guide and shape us and the reign of God will break forth in our lives.
In the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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