A few minutes of effort can make a big difference in your experience of Mass each weekend! It’s as simple as looking through this Sunday’s readings before you head to Church. You can find the passages for this weekend, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time here on the USCCB website – and I’ve written a few thoughts below to hopefully help you in this task.
Some people talk about the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament as if they were two distinct and different gods. At first glance, there seem to be good reason for this: the Old Testament is filled with war, conflict, and fantastic miracles performed by God (the great flood and the Israelites crossing of the Red Sea are a couple of examples). In the New Testament we encounter Jesus whose message seems to focus on peace and forgiveness, who speaks in parables, and whose miracles are performed on on a more immediate level. This leads some to contrast the “wrathful God” of the Old Testament with the “loving God” of the New Testament.
When you encounter a passage like the one that makes up our first reading today (Wisdom 12:13, 16-18), which describes God as one who shows cares for us, who has patience with us in our doubt, and who demonstrates mercy. We also hear that God’s deeds of power are done for our sake – to help us in those moments of doubt. Our second reading (Romans 8:26-27) expands on this idea. St. Paul explains to us that God gives us the Holy Spirit to help us to pray when, on our own, we don’t know how, and He reminds us that God is the one who searches the hearts of men (which is an Old Testament description for God found in 1 Samuel 16:7, 1 Kings 8:39, Psalm 7:11, 17:13, and 139:1).
All of this sets the stage for the three parables that make up the Gospel (Matthew 13:24-43). The parable of the wheat and the weeds continues our agricultural metaphor from last Sunday, but goes in a very different direction. In this case, we hear about a man who plants a field, but an enemy plants weeds among the wheat – which, like all weeds, grow up in the man’s field. The man’s servants want to go and pull the weeds… but the man tells them to be patient until the harvest, when both the wheat and the weeds will be cut down and only then will the weeds be burnt. This last part sounds a lot like Jesus description of the last judgment as a king separating sheep from goats (Matthew 25:31-46).
The first reading did tell us that God is patient with us!
Whether you want to look at this parable as a description of the Church/humanity or a description of your own self – the second and third parables in the Gospel might be helpful. The mustard seed (tiny but yielding a substantial plant) and the yeast (which in small amounts has a tremendous ability to transform) applies equally in either case. If we find ourselves surrounded by others who disbelieve, who doubt, or who struggle with sin, it is our task to be the witnesses of faith living among them. If we ourselves notice that within ourselves, bad habits or sins have sprung up like a weed, we need to immerse ourselves in prayer and grow in virtue. In either case, it is the smallest of efforts and actions which can make the biggest difference – because the good and loving God, the God who searches the hearts of men, He who has made His presence known to us from Old Testament times – He is patient with us, is teaching us to pray, and is trying to guide us to the reward of a good harvest: Heaven with Him forever.