Sow the Seed of Love to Spread the Kingdom of Heaven
Sunday Homily for July 23, 2008
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
By Father Clyde A. Bonar, Ph.D.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells three parables to describe the kingdom of heaven. The parable of the weeds reminds us we live among good and bad, and sometimes it takes a long time to figure out what the good is. We are to wait until harvest time.
The parable of the leaven instructs us on what to do while we wait. We are to mix in love. Amongst the good and the bad, we sow seeds of love.
Our third parable about a mustard seed predicts great results from the love we sow. Starting with just a little bit of love, the kingdom of heaven grows and grows.
Is It Wheat Or A Weed?
First, the parable of the weeds. A farmer cannot distinguish between wheat and a weed called "darnel." As a young sprout, a darnel plant looks exactly like a wheat plant. But, grain from the darnel plant is poisonous. Tiny, black darnel seeds can cause blindness or even death. Jesus says, let the weeds grow along with the wheat, then separate the darnel from the wheat at harvest time.
Here’s a lesson for us. Be patient. Don’t jump to conclusions. Wait to see how the plant grows.
A good example, artists. The painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) died penniless. A century after his death, any van Gogh painting is worth a fortune. His painting "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" last sold for $82.5 million.1 Sometimes centuries may pass before great art is recognized.
Here’s another example of it taking time to separate the wheat from the weeds. Over fifty percent of couples live together before their wedding. One mother told me perhaps her daughter would not now be getting a divorce if she had lived with the man before they got married.
But, statistics prove the opposite. The divorce rate for couples who lived together is fifty percent higher than for couples who had not lived together before marriage. Live with more than one person before getting married, and the divorce rate reaches a whopping 84 % higher.
Separate the wheat from the weeds. If a couple wants a lasting marriage the very worst thing to do is to live together before they get married.
A lesson from the parable of the weeds, we need a lot of time before we know how things work out. What at first seems good or right might prove to be the exact opposite, wrong and not so good.
Not Bread, Love
As we wait for the harvest, how can we help bring about good? What can we do to make things better? In the parable of the leaven, Jesus tells us to sow love. Christ says, "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into three measures of wheat flour until the whole bunch was leavened." Sounds simple enough, but we need to translate some words.
First, the word "leaven." In the Old Testament leaven is a symbol of evil. Leaven corrupts. Those listening to Jesus think: "a little bad can ruin all the good." Or today we might say: "One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel."
Then, the parable says the woman "mixed." According to the Greek, the woman does not "mix;" she hides the leaven in the wheat flour. And think how much flour, three measures. That's fifty pounds of flour.
Put together the words of Jesus tells us the woman hides the leaven in a fifty pound sack of flour, and the dough goes bad. The parable is confusing.
Until it dawns on us: the parable is not about bread. It's about love! For God is love. And, when we mix in some love everything changes. Yeast, modern day yeast, changes flour into bread dough. So too, love changes our lives. The parable of the leaven tells us to spread love until it touches everyone.
We all want as much love as we can get. We expect our families to love us. One day when you come home all gloomy, tell your wife or husband how your boss chewed you out. He or she knows how to boost you back up. And he or she will, because you love each other. Christ urges us, let love work throughout our lives. Like yeast causes the flour to rise into bread dough, so too love brings the kingdom of heaven.
We can rephrase the parable of the leaven. The kingdom of heaven is like love mixed in among the good and the bad. When we give love everybody becomes more loving and we build up the kingdom of heaven.
Growing and Growing
By the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus tells us the kingdom of heaven grows wildly. It spreads, and keeps spreading. In Christ’s words, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. . . . It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants."
Actually, a medium size plant. A mustard plant gets perhaps four feet high. That tells us to look for the kingdom of heaven in the everyday events of life. The kingdom of heaven is not grandiose. It is where most people spend most of their lives.
An example. Michael was the problem child at school. Frequently his teacher sent Michael to the principal’s office. Michael was a weed amongst the flowers. Finally, his teacher asked that Michael be moved to a different class.
His new teacher put him at a desk near her desk. Michael reported to his mother, "she [his teacher] smiles at me." His new teacher praised his artistic talents, she found him dependable and would send him on errands for her. Michael blossomed, he even helped other students.
The care, the God-centered love for a student by a teacher made the kingdom of heaven present right there in her classroom. And, her love multiplied. Today, Michael is himself a teacher. His lessons are attention getters, he smiles a lot at his students, and he celebrates their accomplishments with a "high five."
Like the mustard plant grows, once sown love spreads out to more and more people.
Andrew M. Greely tells how a losing team went undefeated and took the conference title.2 The kids from St. Lawrence were talented but untrained. A new coach took over. The first thing the coach taught them was how to be friends with each other. No more fighting.
Even on the sports field, love makes a difference. As friends, as teammates, the kids played together, each helping the other. As friends, each kid cheered and celebrated the good plays of each other kid. Then, practice, practice, practice. Until they were good enough to win game after game.
Twelve-step programs follow the same pattern of love. Once the addict bottoms out and realizes he or she needs help, help is always there. At meetings, an addict’s story meets a sympathetic hearing, the understanding of someone who’s been to the same bottom. Should temptation seem irresistible, a phone call brings another recovering addict. Someone to lean on when a crutch is desperately needed.
Only love could sustain a twelve-step program. A love which spreads from one recovering addict to another, support that does not fail.
The smallest of all seeds grows into the largest of plants. Once sown, love grows and spreads. When we’re loved, we blossom, we support each other, we’re friendly.
Today we hear three parables. Together these words of Jesus describe the kingdom of heaven. Among the good seeds sown by a farmer, "his enemy" sowed some weeds. Only at harvest time could the good and the bad be separated.
As we live in the midst of good and bad, we are to sow love. To mix the yeast with the flour. To build up the kingdom of heaven we spread love until love touches everyone.
And, like the smallest of seeds, our love grows, multiplies, and spreads. Until everyone can come and rest in the branches made of love.
We, you and I, make the kingdom of heaven present. And we do it in the everyday events of life. Spreading love, one person at a time.