Reflection for Sunday – July 23, 2017
Readings: Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-30.
Preacher: Gloria Ulterino
I’ve spent time in prison. For a number of years I would go to one of the two prisons in town and lead Communion services once a month. I never knew who would cross my path. On one occasion I encountered a talented artist, who brought some of his pictures along to the service. Another time I was greeted by some women who said to me, “You like us to sing, and we have someone here today who can really lead us in song.” Well, she opened her mouth, and one of the most powerful renditions of “Amazing Grace” poured out of her!
Weeds and wheat! Jesus’ parable today points to this truth: we never know what God knows. We never see what God sees. We’re not God. Only God, only Wisdom, only the Spirit can see into the heart, into the suffering of people, into whatever weed might try to claim a human soul. Only God can see beyond the weed, beyond the suffering, beyond the addiction, to the possibilities and gifts entrusted there for the sake of others.
Today’s readings, one after another, are all about the heart of our God. Caring of all. Lenient to all. Kind in delivering justice. Slow to anger and abounding in kindness. Restrained, giving second, third, umpteen chances to repent. Groaning with us, praying in us, but never preying on any of us.
Such is our God, right now. Such was our God, back then. In the world of Wisdom, less than 100 years before Jesus, among faithful Jews in the city of Alexandria. Oh, they knew the stories about others’ gods and goddesses, idols who often delighted in tricking humans. But their God, their one true God, was different. Their God—Wisdom—was God’s saving activity. Their God, known to them beyond gender, had led them out of the prison of Egypt and brought them to freedom, through the Red Sea on dry ground. Their God, less than 100 years later, would take on human flesh in Jesus—whose unquenchable love for us all became dust of our dust, pain of our pain, struggle of our struggle and joy of our joy.
This God, of course, is the very One we encounter today in Jesus, storyteller and Wisdom teacher. Jesus was no stranger to struggle. No stranger to division and conflict. For by now, in this Gospel, Jesus is met with resistance, especially among religious leaders. Not everyone could see; not everyone wanted to see what was right before their very eyes. He did not fit their expectations.
But it was the “little ones” who flocked to Jesus. Longing to be healed and encouraged. Longing to be strengthened for their daily struggles. For the “little ones” were often the most vulnerable—not unlike Jesus—to the political, economic, and religious machinations of those in power. So Jesus spoke to them in parables, in stories with a twist, in stories that could surprise the eyes and heart. Yes, the “kingdom of heaven” could be found among the ordinary events of daily life. Yes, God’s love was so extravagant that it could wait, giving all the weeds just one more chance to come round.
So it is for us today. We don’t have to go to prison to glimpse the “kingdom of heaven” among the weeds and the wheat, do we? We know about the power of weeds to choke the life out of nourishing wheat, out of wheat that becomes food for the body, out of wheat that becomes nourishment for the soul, out of wheat that has the power to bring us to repentance, out of wheat that has the power to heal us and bring us together as one: in engaging with suffering and doing what we can to heal it, right here and right now.
Consider, for example, the youngsters who grow up in homes nearly overgrown with weeds. Are we given the gifts and the passion to mentor them? Or, take all the people—and this is true for us all—who need health care, who cannot be hung out to dry when debilitating illness strikes. We all know that it can strike at any time and in any household.
Or, take this precious home of ours, the good earth, which is meant to sustain us all, endangered by selfish refusal to see or to hear what we must do to care for it. Or, take our nation— a nation of immigrants who have come here to find a better life—in danger of shutting out so many potential gifts to our way of life. Surely one of these issues, or others like them, must appeal to our hearts. Surely we can hear the loving voice of God, through the parable of Jesus’ weeds and wheat, calling to us. Urging us: do something, now, while there’s still time!
Weeds and wheat. In prison and beyond. In everyday life: here, there, and everywhere. A story meant to help us see more clearly, dig more deeply into the very heart of our God. The surprising, challenging, ever nourishing, ever-loving heart of our God. What does that mean for each of us today, while there’s still time?
Why does preaching matter to me?
Can you remember a homily you heard manyyears ago?I can.It changed my life.In July, 1983, I participated in my first preaching workshop, given by Dominican Sister Joan Delaplane.A powerful preacher and expert professor of preaching, she “became” the man at the pool of Bethsaida, by the Sheep Gate.Ill for 38 years, Jesus confronted him with this question, “Do you want to be healed?”He replied (to us), “you may think that’s easy to answer, but it’s not.”As she listed all the reasons why she simply was not sure whether or not she wanted to be healed, I could literally feel a fire in my belly.Wow!I must learn how to do this!
Preaching is a sacred responsibility for me.I have worked long and hard to give my best: to pray with the Scripture, to meet with a homily team for an hour of conversation on the readings, to search out commentaries, and always to wait on the Spirit of God for a spark of truth, on which to build the reflection.Preaching is a joy, a challenge, and a calling.