Our readings this week continued with the theme of hope. We continued to read Romans 8, the charter
of hope, and the sermon of parables in Matthew 13, on the hidden power of God.
We got three parables this week. The main one was the wheat and the tares. Subordinate to it are short ones on the mustard seed and the yeast that leavens the whole lump. Paired with these readings is one from the challenging Book of Wisdom.
A central line for all these readings is in the parable of the wheat and the tares. When the field begins to bear fruit, the servants ask the householder, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?”
When Jesus explains the parable, he says that the servants are the angels. We can imagine the angels looking down on our world with furrowed brow. “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?” This world – at least the human part of it – does not look like God’s creation. If you aren’t tempted to wonder if God is sowing evil, or maybe not in charge at all, maybe you aren’t paying enough attention. The story is a parable, not literal truth – but on some level, the angels must be appalled at what they see.
And we too. We should ask ourselves how many less-honest ways we have of saying, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?” At least that question puts the asker in contact with the Lord. Instead, I get angry at the world, I set out to fix things, I try to take charge. Because, so often, I have a hard time believing that God has sowed good seed.
The two short parables begin to answer the question. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. It is a hidden power. We should be amazed at the power of the seed. It doesn’t make much sense that trees can grow from tiny seeds. And sometimes it makes even less sense to look at this world and think that God is strong, and good, and paying attention.
In “The Grand Inquisitor,” Dostoevsky (who didn’t like the Roman church) imagines a cardinal telling Jesus he is foolish to abandon worldly power. How is anyone going to be converted by love? How can that foolish little mustard seed produce anything? Jesus, don’t you have something more powerful?
And in the third parable, the key word is “hidden.” Our translation says the women “mixed” the leaven in – but the Greek says she “hid” her leaven in a whole lot of flour – and found the whole lump leavened.
God has sowed good seed. He is at work, in us and in our world. But the seed he sows is tiny, and hidden, and takes time to produce its fruit.
In the Gospel, the seed is the Word. In our reading from Romans, the power in that Word – the breath behind the word, the life within the seed – is the Holy Spirit.
“We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” Now, some other time I need to talk about anti-intellectualism; a great danger of our age is to think that God is wherever thinks don’t make sense. I can’t tell you how many problems there are with that problem. The seed is hidden, and we don’t understand – but the seed is the word. It’s not that God makes no sense, it’s that we don’t. It’s not that he is mindless, but that we are.
God “knows what is the intention of the Spirit,” or “sees what is the mind of the Spirit.” In our weakness, we don’t see, but the Spirit does.
He intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings. Don’t of this as mindless groans. Think of it as subtle whisperings. The workings of God are so much more subtle than we think.
Yes, says the Gospel, there are the evil ones, and the scandals, and at the end of time it will all be sorted out. But in the meantime, it is subtle, and we need to trust the Spirit, not our gross eyes, to show us where God is at work.
The reading from Wisdom tells us what to do. First, trust: his “might is the source of justice,” and the reason he doesn’t crush the evil ones is because he is strong, not weak: “your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all.” So trust.
And trust makes us gentle: the reading repeats God’s clemency, his lenience – and then says, “those who are just must be kind.” Kind because God is strong, and we don’t need to crush evil. And kind because we don’t know where he is at work.
The parables all point us back to the Word itself. And so our reading ends, “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” Because we don’t see, we must listen, to the gentle whisperings of the Spirit, to the unexpected teachings of Jesus. Listen, and trust.
In what ways do you find yourself doubting that God has sowed good seed?