Sunday Scripture Readings

sixteenth sunday

in ordinary time,

July 21

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Psalm 86;

Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43

OUR GOOD NEWS: The greatest of Good News - what God is really like. "There is no god beside you who have the care of all, that you need show you have not unjustly condemned" (first reading). No superior power holds God accountable for his world governance. But instead of license to tyrannize, lack of accountability permits a characteristically unique brand of "justice." Precisely because possessing unchallenged might, God is neither threatened nor overreacts when creatures disobey. He's free to respond with a marvelously forgiving attitude, "judging with clemency and much lenience" rather than strictly "by the book." But God is no patsy. Those who have experienced his power as Creator, world Ruler and Redeemer, yet ignore his claims and react with "insolence" (temerity, effrontery), can expect painful confrontation. Like Father, like sons. We his Chosen People, "chips off the old block," imitate God, who teaches by powerful example that "the just person must also be kind-hearted." Generally speaking, gentleness rather than severity leads others to repentance and reform of life. Today's Old Testament selection anticipates Jesus' command (Gospel) to forgive as we have been forgiven, returning loving concern rather than giving others what they deserve. In sum, God's omnipotence allows him to be marvelously "unjust," giving good things when we deserve punishment. This doesn't square with our characterization of a harsh and punitive God. We find the same message in our Gospel. When first told, this story probably served as ammunition in Jesus' running controversy with the Pharisaic-minded. These were quick to separate the pious from ungodly on the basis of external observance, and faulted Jesus for associating with "sinners." But God alone knows who belongs where. Only he judges, and only at the end. Instead of lashing out with swift vengeance, God prefers to let things run their course, bringing good out of evil. "The mustard seed is the smallest seed of all, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants." That appearances often deceive and humble beginnings belie eventual triumph, are the point of two inserted "kingdom parables." Mere specks of dust grow to sturdy plants 10 or more feet tall? A tiny piece of yeast secretly, silently leavening 40 to 45 pounds of flour - enough to stock a chain of supermarkets? God is a "laid-back" judge who patiently awaits the triumph of good. Since we can't really know who are sinners and who are just persons in this life, Jesus commands a healthy non-judgmentality and warns the God-fearing against presumption. Matthew appended a reflection on the paradox of Jesus teaching through parables. Through willful human resistance what should enlighten becomes opaque. Matthew warns fellow Christians and us: Only those willing to be taught can understand. Finally, today's psalm agrees with the readings, emphasizing the Old Testament God's non-punitive response to sinners who approach him in repentance. "You judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us."

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