Who hath ears to hear…
Sixteenth Sunday of the Year. Fr Robert Pollock muses on the images and realities of Christ’s Kingdom.
The kingdom of heaven, of God, was central to Christ’s teaching and preaching. He did not tell his listeners what the kingdom of God was; the human, finite mind could not grasp the glory and splendour of eternal life with God.
Instead, he told them what the kingdom of heaven was like: he used similitudes, or parables. The gospels offer many parables on the kingdom of heaven, stressing its importance, showing what measures must be taken, what sacrifices must be made, to ensure entry. Many of the parables are expressed in homely images with which Christ’s listeners would be familiar, reflecting their daily occupations and concerns.
These parables are seemingly simple, but they are deep, and bear a very profound and important message, and they work at different levels. They teach us about the kingdom of heaven, about the church on earth, and the dangers which we shall encounter.
The group of parables in today’s gospel are taken mostly from agriculture, the growing of crops, on which so much time and labour was expended. They do not present a romanticised, idealistic picture of engaging with nature; nature can be very demanding and exacting. The everyday tasks which are the bases of the parables are the things which people have to do in order to live; the parables explore the related themes of life and death.
Crops, on which life depend, have to be planted carefully, in the right conditions. The ground has to be right to receive the seed, and has to be watered. Harsh or stony ground will not allow the seed to germinate. Crops have to be nurtured during the growing season; much labour and toil are required. If the necessary conditions are not fulfilled, the crops will fail, resulting in hunger or starvation, even death. Even if good seed is planted, weeds will also grow, and threaten the crops. Decisions, judgements, have to be made.
To remove the weeds too early could damaged the wheat. On the day of the harvest, judgement day, the weeds are removed and destroyed; the wheat is stored carefully in the barns. The parables describe the realities of earthly living, in which there is a constant struggle to survive, and provide the means of future life.
The parables are also telling us about the Church, the kingdom of God on earth. To be called into the Church is a grace, which we accept. But membership of the Church does not mean automatic entry into the kingdom; ‘not everyone who calls Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom’, as we are taught elsewhere in the gospel. Life in the Church is demanding, like the growing of crops. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who sows the seed, which is the word of God. It grows, but weeds, which seek to supplant and destroy the kingdom of God on earth, also grow. There is constant struggle between the good seed, which is the life of Christ within us, and those forces, the weeds, which seek to destroy the kingdom on earth.
The parables also point to one of the central beliefs of Christianity: the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, who, by shedding his blood on the Cross, opened the way to the kingdom of heaven. Early Christian writers compared the blood of Christ to the water which irrigates the soil and gives life to the crops; they said that the blood of the martyrs, who, literally, gave their lives for the kingdom of God, irrigated the soil of the Church, and brought forth new life. We must be vigilant to care for and protect his new life; the gospels constantly exhort us to be alert, to be vigilant, of the life of Christ within us.
Finally, the parables teach us that, at the end of time, as at the time of the harvest, there will be a judgement, when those who have faithful, the wheat, will be admitted to the kingdom of God, and the rest, the weeds, will be excluded
Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.