SIXTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR A
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
July 17, 2005
Monastery of the Glorious Cross, O.S.B.
Wisdom speaks, saying, “You have made your children to be of a good hope” (Wis 12:19). The psalmist sings, “You, O Lord, are sweet and mild” (Ps 85:5). The Apostle says, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our infirmity, for we know not how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26). Finally, the Word himself, arriving in the Gospel, speaks to those who have ears to hear: “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man. And the field is the world. And the good seed are the children of the Kingdom” (Mt 1337-38). The Word given us today is not easily synthesized. One must be willing to hold one’s ear to today’s Word for a good long while before certain harmonics begin to make themselves heard.
The Gospel obliges us to exchange the meaning attached to the images given us in last Sunday’s parable of the sower for another level of meaning. Jesus plays with the same images sower and seed, field and harvest but today, through them, he is communicating another mystery. The Divine Teacher obliges us at every moment to listen with ears that are quick to hear and to look with eyes wide open, lest the demon of routine, the enemy of our souls, slip in to sow the confusion of cockle among the wheat.
In last Sunday’s parable, the seed was the Word. Christ was the sower sent by the Father to sow the seed of the Word profusely, lavishly, almost carelessly, in every human heart. In today’s parable, the sower of the seed is again Christ, but the field is the world and the good seed are the children of the Kingdom (Mt 13:37-38). It is not the Word that is sown far and wide; in today’s Gospel it is rather the hearers of the Word who are sown in the vast field of the world. The disciples, hearers of the Word, are the seed Christ scatters abroad. Christ implants in the world those in whom his Word has been fruitful, yielding “in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Mt 13:23).
By planting his Church in every place, Christ has sown his own good seed among the nations, “from the rising of the sun to its setting” (Mal 1:11). We are the seed sown by the Son of Man. We are the seed tossed into the field of the world to “grow together until the harvest” (Mt 13:30) alongside of weeds sown by the enemy.
Today’s parable is, I think, best illumined by the priestly prayer of Christ in the Cenacle. It is a prayer for the good seed, “the children of the kingdom” (Mt 13:38), sown in the field of the world by hand of Christ. “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth (Jn 17:14-17). Jesus’ priestly prayer shines on today’s parable and brings it into focus. Jesus prays not that the seed be taken out of the world, but that the seed be protected from the evil one. He prays for the children of the Kingdom, the seed of his Church, a seed sprouting holiness.
What are the signs of a sprouting holiness in others and in ourselves? The first reading offers some elements of discernment. First, holiness is the fruit not of striving and straining, nor of any natural talent or psychological predisposition, nor of accumulated good works, nor of a strong will, but of grace. “Your strength is the source of righteousness” (Wis 13:16). The Vulgate has, “Your power is the beginning of justice” (Wis 12:16). “My grace is sufficient for you,” said Christ to Paul, “for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).
Second, true holiness is marked by mildness and by forbearance, by what the Vulgate calls the humanitas of God our Saviour (Tit 3:4). “You judge with clemency,” says our text from Wisdom, “and with great indulgence you dispose of us” (Wis 12:18). Holiness in the children of the kingdom is but the reflection of Christ who alone is holy. The holiness of Christ is characterized, above all, by clemency, mildness, indulgence and mercy. In authentic holiness there is nothing harsh, nothing overbearing, nothing that crushes the spirit or extinguishes hope. We heard the prophecy of Isaiah in yesterday’s gospel: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench” (Is 42:3; Mt 12:20). The refrain of today’s responsorial psalm bears this out, more strikingly in the editio typica. There, we read, Tu, Domine, suavis et mitis es. “You, O Lord, are sweet and mild” (Ps 85:5).
Holiness is the Father’s gift communicated in Christ, through the inward operations of the Holy Spirit, to those accept it, that is, to those who pray. This is where today’s passage from Romans comes in. Paul knows the dilemma of those beset by infirmity: those who would pray but do not know how to pray. “The Spirit, he says, helps us in our infirmity, and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26-27).
Christ does not abandon the good seed scattered by his hand in the vast field of the world. “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:25). Even as the good seed grows together with the weeds until the harvest, it is secretly nourished and protected by the Holy Spirit.
We go now to the altar. There, drawn down by the epiclesis, the Church’s solemn invocation, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the good seed. The Eucharist is the summit of the intercession made by the Spirit “for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom 8:27). The Father who searches the heart of every child of the kingdom, is pleased, in the Eucharist, to mark his own with the sweetness and mildness of his Christ. By this are “the children of the kingdom” distinguished from “the children of the evil one” (Mt 13:38). On the day of the great harvest, the angels will be sent out to reap the fruits of holiness sprung from the good seed. On that day, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen” (Mt 13:43).