Readings for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time: WIS 12: 13, 16-19; PS 86: 5-6; 9-10, 15-16; ROM 8: 20-27; MT 13: 24-43.
The entire world stands aghast at the cruelty of Israel's vicious and illegal collective punishment of Palestinian civilians for the perceived "crimes" of Hamas -- the group of Palestinian resisters committed to the expulsion of illegal Zionist occupiers from the Palestinian homeland.
Today's liturgy of the word implores the Zionists to abandon their butchery.
It also challenges Christians to denounce such ethnic cleansing and to withdraw the last vestiges of support for a group that more resembles their former Nazi persecutors than the "People of God" celebrated in the Hebrew Bible.
At the same time, today's readings support rabbi Michael Lerner in cautioning Hamas against its policy of violent resistance. Though many of us would agree that Hamas' tactics are understandable and often justified by principles of self-defense, today's Gospel reading identifies them as counterproductive and ultimately harmful to the very people Hamas seeks to defend.
Instead, Jesus suggests that violent resistance should be replaced by greater reliance on more subtle and patient strategies. Such strategies are reflected in the three basic themes of today's readings. They emphasize (1) the power of God expressed in leniency and forgiveness, (2) the futility of violent response to unwanted foreign presence, and (3) resistance that takes the form of patient trust that God's forgiving power will prevail. In succession, the themes suggest challenges for Jewish Zionists, Palestinians, and Christians.
Begin with the first reading from the Jewish Testament's Book of Wisdom. It is particularly relevant to Zionist Jews. The reading says explicitly that God's power is not expressed in violence but in leniency to all, Jew and non-Jew alike.
That theme is repeated in today's responsorial psalm with equal relevance to Zionists. There God is described as belonging to all nations. The divine Spirit, as Paul insists in today's second reading, dwells within all humans regardless of nationality. It is slow to anger, good, forgiving, abounding in kindness
From this, Jewish wisdom insists that the "People of God" must in turn be kind, lenient and forgiving to all -- presumably even to their worst enemies. There is no room here for exceptions involving the indigenous tribal people of Palestine.
The second theme of today's liturgy enjoys direct relevance to contemporary Palestinians. Whether they are Muslims or Christians (and many are Christians), they also recognize the Bible as the Word of God. I point to Palestinian relevance because this second theme addresses the question of resisting illegal occupation.
That is, Jesus' parable of the weeds planted by an enemy in a landlord's field can be credibly read as addressing Roman occupation forces encumbering Israel during Jesus' lifetime. [According to Crossan, Matthew's allegorizing of Jesus' parable -- making it about the end of the world -- is more reflective of the situation of the Jewish diaspora (following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE) than of the actual revolutionary situation of Jesus' own day.] In occupied Israel, the suffocating Roman presence was as unwelcome, alien, and destructive as weeds in a garden or field. It was like the presence of basically European Zionist colonizers who have encumbered Palestinian land since their colonial invasion in 1948.
The question was how to deal with such odious foreign presence. Zealot revolutionaries had their answer: Uproot the weeds here and now. Take up arms; assassinate Romans and their collaborators; drive them out mercilessly. Be as cruel and vicious as the Romans.
Jesus' response was different. As a non-violent revolutionary, he could surely understand the more apocalyptic strategy. After all, much of his teaching expressed sympathy to the Zealot cause which included land reform, debt forgiveness, and expulsion of the hated Roman occupation forces. Many scripture scholars even identify possibly five members of Jesus' inner circle as Zealots themselves.
But Jesus' Parable of the Weeds is more prudent and sensitive to civilian casualties than the strategy of the impatient Zealots -- or that of Hamas.
When the landlord's workers ask, "Should we uproot the weeds?" Jesus' landlord answers: "No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them."