15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The third and last section of the Book of Isaiah is the source of the first reading for this weekend.
This reading was composed when pious Jews must have been disillusioned, heartsick and uncertain in their devotion to God. For decades they had lived as exiles in Babylon, capital and center of the once powerful Babylonian Empire. They despised the pagan environment of the great city, coincidentally in present-day Iraq, and longed for their own homeland.
At last, political fortunes changed. These Jews were allowed to go back to their ancestors’ homes, but upon returning, they found no “land flowing with milk and honey.” Life was hard. Difficulties were many. For so long they had dreamt of escaping Babylon for the security, order and peace of the Jewish land. Yet, they found destitution and misery. God had spared them, but for what?
Certainly many were angry with God. This third section of Isaiah reminded them that God’s work must be their own. God had freed them, but they had to create a society of justice and prosperity for themselves.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans supplies the second reading. Written to the Christians of Rome about two generations after Jesus, Paul refers to their “sufferings.” The legal and political systems in the empire were turning against Christianity. It was a time on the very threshold of persecution.
Outright persecution aside, the culture of the Roman Empire in the first century A.D. stood directly opposite the values of the Gospel.
The Apostle consoled and challenged these Roman Christians, telling them that sin ultimately enslaves humans, demeaning them and robbing them of freedom. Sin disorders creation itself, so creation “groans” in agony, Paul wrote.
Jesus is the Redeemer amid this unhappy situation. He gives true freedom to people. This freedom opens the way to peace and eternal life, despite the hostility or chaos all around.
St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is the familiar parable of the farmer who sows seed in different places. Some seeds sprout. Others die.
Jesus preaches before a great crowd. As are people everywhere, at any time, these people thirsted for the truth and insight that only God gives.
Almost certainly, everyone is a Galilean, and therefore involved in, or familiar with, agriculture. The imagery of a farmer, and the sowing of seed, is easily understood.
Agriculture still often is a game of chance. It was all the more so when Jesus preached in Galilee. Hot days easily scorched seeds that fell on shallow soil. Birds and pests were everywhere. Weeds suddenly appeared, but here and there good soil received the seeds planted by farmers and produced a yield.
The ancient Fathers of the Church often provide highly useful reflections on the Gospel.
Several of the Fathers, including St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. John Chrysostom and St. Jerome, found certain aspects of this weekend’s Gospel highly instructive. They saw evidence of God’s intense love for us. Jesus preached on the seashore to provide space for as many as possible. He was face to face with the audience. Imagine the effect of eye contact, of actually hearing the voice of Jesus!
The Lord used parables and here a parable filled with familiar images. God wants us to hear the words that bring us peace and life.
God’s message is never an exercise in control. It is a seed planted in our hearts. Will it grow? The choice belongs to us.
Outside factors may frustrate the process. Temptations may come, as the birds came. Inwardly, our hearts may be hard, as was the rocky soil in the story. We must be humble enough to accept God’s Word and determined enough to drive away the intruders that would rob us of the seed.
The Sunday Gospel reflection for July 20 can be found below.
God only is sure and true
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Wisdom provides this weekend’s first reading.
Wisdom is the name not only of this book of the Old Testament, but of an entire genre of writings. Collectively, the purpose is to convey in human language, and for human situations of life, the wisdom that can come only from God.
Always important as backdrop in reading the Wisdom literature, or in rewarding any Scripture for that matter, is that humans necessarily are limited. We cannot understand everything. We cannot see everything. Even what we see at times, and perhaps more often than not, is distorted and colored.
The bottom line therefore is that we need God. We simply cannot survive without divine wisdom. God offers this in the revealed Scriptures.
This weekend’s reading is a salute to God, the almighty, the perfect, and the perfectly just and all knowing. The reading is highly poetic and lyrical, almost as if it were a hymn. It proclaims the majesty and greatness of God.
Whereas we humans are severely limited, God is not limited. Marvelous for us, God fulfills us despite our limitations. We have nothing to want or to fear if we listen to God, the source of all wisdom.
Thus, this passage calls us to the reality of God.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the source of this very brief reading, the second lesson for this weekend’s Liturgy of the Word.
The stress here is on our weakness, on our limitations. Even our prayers are weak, handicapped by our sinfulness. However, God supplies. As disciples of Jesus, born again in the life of Jesus, we speak with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit praises God for us, petitions for us.
For the last reading, the Church presents a parable from St. Matthew’s Gospel. It is the familiar story of the sower who planted good seed in his field. These references to agriculture were very useful in addressing audiences whose livelihood almost exclusively was in farming or herding.
At night, an enemy comes and sows the seeds of weeds. In time, both grain and weeds come forth. God will separate the good from the bad. There will be a difference.
Another parable follows. It is the story of a mustard seed, a tiny piece of matter. But, as a seed, it has the potential of life and growth. In time, it becomes a great tree.
Finally, Jesus gives the Apostles a special and much more detailed lesson. He explains the parable. They were the Lord’s special students, individually chosen for a special future task.
The Wisdom Literature was composed in an era when fidelity to God had a demand beyond that of the usual. The culture surrounding the devout was quite hostile to the one, true God of the Jews. Indeed, many of the elect fell away from God. The popular wisdom of the culture seemed so obvious, so clear and so compelling.
Wisdom writings insist, however, that this culture is unfulfilling. God alone is sure.
Today our own culture calls us astray. We too are challenged. The Church teaches us to help us in responding.
God loves us, as both the first and second lessons insist. God supplies what we need. He gives us divine wisdom for our walk through the darkness and shadows of life. He redeems us in Jesus.
Nevertheless, weeds grow in the gardens of our souls. We must be aware of them. We must attempt to uproot them. It is the story of avoiding temptation.
Reassuring us is Paul. God marvelously provides. God only is sure and true. We must strengthen ourselves so that we personally as Christians can grow into a mighty tree of righteousness, able to withstand the rigors of our times, able to endure forever.
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