God’s Compassion

Wis 12:13,16-19 • Rom 8:26-27 • Mt 13:24-43

Last Sunday we listened to the parable of the sower and the seed which sought to deal with differing reactions to the Word of God. Why did some listen and embrace the Word while others heard it, flirted with it, but in the end never embraced it? This week’s parable, which might be called the feuding farmers, deals with a resulting question: how are Christians to react to those who reject the Word God and the life of the Christian community?

Matthew’s objective is to present the kingdom of God. An ongoing method he uses is to contrast the kingdom of God with the empire of Rome. Subtly, what is unjust in the Roman Empire is highlighted by the good in God’s kingdom. One of the contrasts is with the use of power. The power of Rome was used to conquer, to subjugate and to rule. The power of Christ was put to use in serving God and the children of God.

This is especially clear in our passage from Wisdom which contrasts the power of God with the power of other gods. God is presented as all powerful, yet He is also presented being lenient, as showing clemency. God does not use power to demonstrate power itself, rather, by not using the power He could use, God demonstrates kindness and clemency. Jesus will say that those with authority often lord it over us. A person who is corrupted by his or her authority will use their authority just to demonstrate that they have it. God, on the other hand, does not need to demonstrate His power. God’s example, contrary to every understanding of power and authority of the day, chooses not to prove himself. Jesus demonstrated His power by surrendering it to death on a cross.

Today’s parable is the first of several that says “the kingdom of heaven may be compared to. . .and the kingdom of heaven is like. . . . What we learn is that God’s kingdom is like nothing that had been experienced.

Feuds between families were part of the first-century Mediterranean world. Family honor was to be protected at all cost, and any affront to a family or to a member of a family was to be answered. Acknowledging that revenge was part of the culture, the Law of the Torah sought to regulate revenge by trying to prevent escalation. The Law says, “Only an eye for an eye. Only a tooth for a tooth.”

Feuds could be multi-generational. Our archetypical American feud is seen in the legend of the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys. People could be born into a feud and never really know what started it. Such seems to be the case today. One family sowed weeds in the field of another family. The weed that confronted the owner of the field is a troublesome weed called “bearded darnel.” It is an opportunistic weed that protects its existence. In its early growth it so closely resembles wheat that even an experienced farmer is hard pressed to tell the difference. Even if a farmer could tell the difference, bearded darnel’s roots intertwine with those of the wheat. You cannot pull up the darnel without pulling up the wheat. It is only after the weed and the wheat “headed out” that the two could be told apart and separated.

The policy of rulers of the day, when confronted with rebellions, was a “scorched earth” policy. Just kill everyone whether unfaithful or faithful. This is what happened to Jerusalem in A.D. 69, and Matthew well remembered it. God’s kingdom, on the other hand, deals with the bad and the good differently. Like the wise farmer, God waits to see what kind of fruit we will bear. His authority does not rush to judgment or act without compassion. God gives chances, something we are not so fond of doing.

Unfortunately, throughout history there has been a lot of weeding out. Hitler believed the Aryan race to be pure, and he was determined to weed out anyone that was not within his idea of perfection. Stalin had his pogroms that weeded out the different and even some within his own household that did not fit in with him. There was the “Red Purge” in China under Mao Tse Tung. There are those whom we regard as weeds in our personal lives as well.

The fact is that we are going to have weeds among us. What are we going to do with them? We must be careful not to judge them lest we begin to hurt the good among us as well. We have a long history of weeding out undesirables. Perhaps we might try to listen to the Word of God and be patient until we see the fruit of a person’s life.

FATHER STEINER, born and reared in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Previously, he served in the diocesan high school as teacher, associate principal, and principal. He received his education from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, the Gregorian University in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C..