American Bible Society

Lectio Divina - Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

Lectio Content


Sunday, July 23rd, 2017
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading from Matthew 13:24-43

Other Readings:

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19, Romans 8:26-27


24He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field.25While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.26When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.27The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’29He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.30Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

31 He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field.32 It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”

The Parable of the Yeast

33He spoke to them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.”

The Use of Parables

34 All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables,35to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables,

I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation [of the world].”

The Explanation of the Parable of the Weeds

36Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”37 He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,38the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one,39and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.40Just as weeds are collected and burned [up] with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.

More Parables

Jesus uses three parables to convey his teaching about the kingdom of heaven. Parables are unique to Jesus and his teaching style. As we saw last week, a parable of Jesus is a metaphor or simile that is drawn from nature or common life that shocks the listener and leaves the mind in doubt as to its precise meaning. It ends abruptly, challenging its listeners to arrive at their own conclusions about its meaning. They may get it right or they may not. Jesus has the attention of a large crowd. He will not be able to teach them in smaller groups so he shares a parable with them and lets them sort out the meaning. He wants the crowds to think deeply about all its possible applications.

In today’s first parable Jesus shocks the crowd because in the story an enemy has sown bad seed into his good field of wheat. It is a deliberate act of sabotage. The shock of this affront is mitigated by the farmer who does not counsel retaliation. He counsels his servants to let the seed grow to maturity and sort the issue out at the harvest.

The bad seed sown in the field grows into a grain with poisonous seeds, also known as “darnel” or “tares.” The tare seed sprouts and looks exactly like wheat until just before the harvest when the heavy tare head droops over and the tare is revealed. It is a painstaking process to harvest and separate the tare stalks from the good wheat but the farmer is willing to do this to ensure that no mature wheat is lost. The second and third parables relate respectively to exclusive worlds of men and women. No farmer sows mustard seed in a field. Farmers in the Middle East spend their lives extricating this plant from their fields. The small seed takes root quickly and grows at an exponential rate. It will eventually take over all the cultivated ground. It cannot be stopped!

The third parable relates to women who bake bread in their home. It was not a pleasant task. Women would hold their nose and select a bit of smelly, cultured yeast from a jar in the cooking area. Because it was difficult to get the smell of the yeast off your fingers, they selected the smallest possible amount that would make the dough rise. But even this small amount placed in the dough would multiply exponentially—and in this parable, leavening three measures of flour would yield enough bread to serve one hundred people.


Bad seed illicitly planted. Mustard seed purposely sown and plowed into the soil. Smelly yeast touched and used to grow the dough. All shocking images that you would not expect to hear in Jesus’s teaching about the kingdom of heaven. What, if anything, do they have in common? What message is Jesus trying to convey?

Jesus is teaching that the kingdom of heaven is going to appear suddenly and grow at an amazing rate. In the process of its appearance there will be shocks and delays but ultimately we will see growth—and growth exponentially. Small seeds of the mustard plant will quickly grow to take over the entire field. The smallest amount of yeast will cause the dough to rise out of the bowl. The kingdom of heaven may start small and with great difficulty, but it will grow—and once it begins to grow it will not be able be stopped. God is patient. God is willing to wait until we see the mature wheat, the mustard plant grown into a bush, and the additional yeast tripling the size of the dough. The kingdom of heaven is coming. God has the ultimate long view when it comes to the kingdom. Its growth cannot be stopped.


Lord, open my ears to hear your word in worship anew this week. Give me the eyes to see new insights in ancient stories and the courage to enter the challenge of the parables and the images that they evoke.


Jesus wants to teach as many people as possible. In his parables, he engages both men and woman with stories taken from the world of the farmer and the land, and stories of the working world of women. He wants everyone to be able to connect with the message, especially the message about the coming of the kingdom of heaven.

We need to be dedicated to this same vision. The message of the gospel is available for everyone. Jesus goes to great lengths to ensure that every man and every woman would be challenged and encouraged by his message. Now our lives are becoming a message of the gospel among the people we meet. We might be the only Bible they ever read. What will our message be?

Kevin Saunders is a Catholic Bible teacher in Phoenix, Arizona. He became particularly interested in the cultural world of Jesus while living in the Old City of Jerusalem. His popular Bible class can be found online at

About Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is a weekly framework for a faithful and respectful reading of the Bible, coordinated with the Catholic lectionary calendar.

James Martin, S.J. on Lectio Divina

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