Matthew 13:24-43, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Many years ago, I asked my maternal grandfather what it was like during the Japanese
occupation. I don’t remember now what he said. I do remember, though, what I felt after he said it. He was very brief but very resentful, enough to stop me from ever asking him again about the Japanese occupation.
Ever wonder what it would be like to live through another foreign occupation? We’d become second-class citizens in our own land, for starters. The invaders would hijack our businesses. They’d fly over in droves, grab our lands, steal our homes. They’d over-tax our earnings then fly the money off to their country. And if they’re pagans, they’d insult our religion, flout our moral codes. They’d abuse our small-wage earners, disrespect our elders, and hang over us a pall of constant threat. Would economy be better than before? Maybe. But at what cost?
Now I understand why Jews sat up and listened whenever Jesus told stories about the Kingdom of God. The Aramaic phrase might’ve been malkut Adonai, reign of God,” from melek, “king;” in Greek, basileia tou Theou, from basil, “king.” If I were a Jew back then, I’d have been a second-class citizen in my own country under the Romans, me and my family. Sure, we had our own kababayan-king: Herod Antipater. But everybody knew he was just a pathetic puppet of Caesar. I’d probably sit up and listen, too, if someone came along, saying malkut Adonai this, basileia tou Theou that; kingdom of God; not Israel, not Rome, God. Because by then I’d have been sick, tired, angry hearing the usual Kingdom of Caesar, basileia tou Kaísara, malkut Kesar, thus says Caesar, thus decrees Caesar, and all images they triggered: centurions, abuses, idolatry, Jewish collaborators and sycophants, etc.
Jesus’s Kingdom stories, however, sang a different tune. God’s reign was a comforting melody of wheat stalks, mustard seeds, yeast, birds nesting. God’s kingdom was about planting, harvesting, burning weeds, baking bread. It was about everyday things, in other words. For a change, “kingdom” did not sound monarchical nor feel militaristic. No threats, no violence, no deaths. Malkuth Adonai was a quiet kind of reign, basileia tou Theou was a sovereignty of patience. In Jesus’s stories, I would realize that God had been ruling far longer than all the kings I loved and hated. His reign had been far deeper than I felt. His presence, far closer to me than I imagined. Kaya lang, like seeds, nagsisimula ang paghahari ng Diyos sa maliit. Like yeast, tahimik siyang nanunuot sa araw-araw nating buhay. But make no mistake about it. As Jews heard him tell, Jesus said the day would come when people would unequivocally realize who was really Basil and who were not. And those who were only pretenders, like weeds posing as wheat? They would finally crash and burn. This is not unfamiliar to us, sisters and brothers. We have seen it happen in our lifetime—in proportions large and small, whether in our personal lives or in our country or in our communities. God’s reign is quiet, seemingly slow, many times quite invisible. But as we have witnessed, God’s reign is continuous, efficacious, relentless. Jesus of Nazareth was right all along. “Kingdom” was always about God. “There is no God other than you,” as our first reading today says. God and only God is king.
Sisters and brothers, in these past four months especially, it’s not just a virus that has reigned over us, or occupied us. No, kings and kingdoms, too, large and small, have been virus-like. They’ve left us feeling sick, tired, helpless, angry. I’ve been asking: in all these weedy declarations of power and authority, is there still room to grow for salvation, comfort, and nourishment for people who need them most? In all our preaching and singing and meditating online, is there still altruism offline? In our assiduous self-protection, are we still missionaries? Do we still see a clear line drawn between ministry and paranoia? Does wheat still grow among all the weeds? In other words, does God still reign at all?
Thank God, yes! In Philippine General Hospital, shorthanded that they are, Frs Lito and Roy continue going room to room, comforting severe Covid patients, thirty to forty patients per visit; the reign of God! Fr. Manoling and his team continue helping farmers sell their harvest; the kingdom of God! Nanay Bading down in Barangka, keeps cooking and selling adobong mani every afternoon to support her family, giving some of it away free to tricycle drivers; paghahari ng Diyos! Si Nancy namin sa Arrupe, patung-patong na kaldero ang hinuhugasan, mas matangkad pa sa kanya, araw-araw, para may makain sa bahay at may gamot ang asawa; Kaharian ng Diyos! At maraming-marami pang iba tulad nila. As long as the sick and dying are comforted, the hungry are fed, the oppressed are unburdened—in other words, even amidst weeds of sickness, greed, and politics, as long as there are pockets of everyday salvation, pockets of everyday mercy, pockets of everyday loving—God reigns… if quietly, but relentlessly.
Back in Galilee, Jesus always knew that devious forces would always sow weeds along with the wheat. But remember how Jesus always ended his stories, dear sisters and brothers. Goodness grows, though humbly and quietly. But evil, deceit, vendetta—they eventually crash and burn. To our great relief and deep consolation, Jesus was right: God is king. There is no other. God is king. There is no other.
*Image from the Internet