The famous parable of the Sower that we read last week is followed by a series of parables through which Jesus explains to his disciples the kingdom of God. We read three this Sunday—the parable of the weeds among the wheat; the parable of the mustard seed; and the parable of the yeast—and two more next week.
It is important to realize that when Jesus is speaking about the kingdom, he is not explaining heaven, he is rather talking about what “earth” would look like if it would function with the values of the gospel. Actually, a better translation of the word used in the original Greek would have us speaking of “kingship” (or “realm”) rather than “kingdom.” Moreover, Matthew is the only one among the gospel writers that uses the term “Kingdom of Heaven” when the rest refer to the “Kingdom of God.”—using the latter would more easily make the point.
The first parable we read today is the one of the weeds and the wheat. It is a parable that deals with the pervasive existence of evil, understood as a power that is there to offer resistance, to hinder the building of the kingdom. In the parable, Jesus explains that the wheat and the weeds are very similar while they are growing. While our tendency would be to quickly eliminate the weeds, as the slaves propose, the master prefers to wait. Because evil can be very subtle, the master prefers to wait. It takes patience to build the kingdom. And, unlike the way we tend to think, reality is difficult and not as black and white, good vs. evil as we would like. We could also recognize how this battle between good and evil happens even inside ourselves.
The second parable is a very famous one also. The mustard seed is an image that calls us to learn to discern how unspectacular, unassuming realities can give tremendous fruit. We have to learn to recognize the mustard seeds while they are seeds. It has always caught my attention also that Jesus does not say that the mustard seed will become the largest of trees, but the largest of plants. The kingdom will always be of human dimension, never a huge, overwhelming reality.
The third parable, intimately connected to the second one, conveys a similar idea. The kingdom will be built silently, without fanfare, from within, based on the power of slow transformation, which is the way yeast changes and activates the wheat.
I personally like the second and the third parables the most, as they offer beautiful images—the mustard seed and the yeast. But interestingly, the disciples only ask Jesus about the first one—perhaps they were obsessed, like many of us, about the final judgment. But I do not see judgment in today’s gospel, I see a guide on how to build the kingdom.
We are called to be builders of the kingdom, and one of the places where we are to do this is in our own faith communities (at and through our faith communities.) At Sacred Heart we say it explicitly in our mission statement: “Sacred Heart recognizes our engagement in the Mission of Jesus to build the Kingdom of God here and now.” These parables become a guide for us (certainly for me) on how to build the kingdom: with the patience of the one who knows that it is not that easy to separate good from evil; knowing that realities are always a mix of good and bad, useful and useless; with a discerning eye to identify people and ideas with the potential to become realities of the Kingdom; with the humility of knowing that we will never become a super mega-church; promoting the kind of transformation suggested by the image of the yeast: effecting change silently, from within, one person at a time, without publicity.