Home Homilies Michael Whelan SM, PhD Gospel for the Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) (23 July 2023)

Gospel for the Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) (23 July 2023)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30 – NRSV)

Introductory notes


This parable is unique to Matthew.

Once again, Matthew addresses a troubling experience of his audience: They have accepted Jesus why do the majority of the Jews not accept him? What are they to make of this division? Daniel Harrington writes: “The parable of the wheat and weeds (13:24–30) follows upon the parable of the sower. The setting is agricultural, and the subject is the mixed reception accorded Jesus’ word of the kingdom. The problem faced in the parable is the fact that some Jews accept and others reject the gospel. The issue before the Christians is, How do we react to this reality? The parable, which surely has allegorical features (though not as many as Matt 13:36–43 supplies), counsels patience and tolerance in the present. The assumption behind this counsel is the confidence that at the final judgment there will be a separation between the just and the unjust along with appropriate rewards and punishments.” (Daniel J Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Liturgical Press, 2007, 208.)


The kingdom of heaven: The expression typical of Matthew, that it is just another way of speaking of “the kingdom”, the centerpiece of Jesus’ preaching: “According to all three Synoptics, the kingdom of God was the central theme of the preaching and teaching of Jesus. The phrase occurs fourteen times in Mark, thirty-two times in Luke, but only four times in Matthew (12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43). In its place, Matthew substitutes ‘the kingdom of heaven’ (lit ‘the kingdom of the heavens’, Gk. hē basileía tōn ouranōn). Although dispensational theology has customarily made a theological distinction between these two terms, the simple fact is that they are quite interchangeable (cf. Mt. 19:23 with v 24; Mk. 10:23). In Jewish rabbinic literature, the common phrase is ‘the kingdom of the heavens’ (Dalman, pp. 91ff). In Jewish idiom, ‘heaven’ or some similar term was often used in place of the holy name (see Lk. 15:18; Mk. 14:61).” (G E Ladd, “Kingdom Of God” in G. W. Bromiley (Ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Vol. 3) Wm. B. Eerdman, 1979-1988, 24.)

someone who sowed good seed: The audience is called to listen to the whole process – the sowing and growing. And so we must ask: What is happening here?

while everybody was asleep: This suggests two contrasting interpretations. Firstly, nobody notices the bad thing that is happening in their own backyard. Secondly, the growth continues peaceably until the end. The first interpretation suggests something about being in the kingdom at his moment, while the second suggests something about the end time. This deepens the question, “What is happening here?” You cannot answer this question – you cannot judge – with any confidence until all is revealed at the close of the ages and the fullness of the kingdom.

Let both of them grow together: The idealist will rush to get rid of the weeds and the work of the “enemy” for it is spoiling the crop! In doing this, the idealist will probably also uproot the wheat as well. The realist waits until the end, when the weeds and the wheat can both be removed. The weeds can then be separated out and thrown away. The wheat can be harvested. The “enemy” is thus defeated at the end.

Every curse a blessing, every blessing a curse

In today’s Gospel – Matthew 13: 24-30 –the “kingdom of heaven” is compared to “someone” who sows good seed and someone else comes along and sows bad seed amidst the good seed. Thus, the sower is forced into an impasse – there seems to be no good option here. Our expectations – indeed, the very fact that we expect anything at all – makes us vulnerable to the experience of impasse. These moments of impasse – trivial or very serious – demand a choice between seemingly unattractive or even bad alternatives.

However, our faith reminds us that every moment is potentially a moment of blessing, even if it seems like a moment in which we are cursed. Jacob experienced this when he wrestled with the angel – “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” (Genesis 28:16). The categories of “curse” and “blessing” imply a particular way of framing the situation. Faith can help us re-frame each moment of our lives.

We cannot change what has happened. We may not have much say about what will happen. But we do know that God is with us, that God’s presence is loving, that God’s loving is liberating, that there is no need to be afraid. This really is the very essence of what is revealed to us in the Bible. This message can become very real for us when we experience any impasse – especially a serious impasse.

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field, but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat …” This person deserved better. This should not happen. But it does happen.

St John of the Cross (1542-1591) offers us a way of thinking that can assist us to re-frame experiences of impasse. He uses the metaphor of “the dark night”. According to St John, life is inherently purifying because God is there. Moments of frustration, pain and even despair, involve some loss of control and threats to our sense of security. Such moments can be very “dark” because we cannot “see” or “know” what is happening. However, such moments are also potentially moments of grace in which we are purified and transformed. When we re-frame the moment in faith, we open ourselves to the loving action of God.

These moments of impasse can seem particularly threatening to a loving relationship or a vocational commitment. Re-framed, however, through the lens of faith, they can also be embraced for what they can be: Moments of deepening care and respect, of a new and more realistic appreciation of the other, of an awakening to the true heart and dynamism of one’s vocation.

Living is more about the questions life has for us rather than the questions we have for life. How we respond to those questions will determine the kind of person we become. Re-framing our days in the light of Christ can make all the difference.

Fr Michael Whelan SM – Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time