Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – 20 July 2014 – Of Justice and Kindness


16th Sunday Ordinary Time – July 20, 2014  – Of Justice and Kindness

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Psalm 86:5-6,9-10, 15-16; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-30

About four o’clock in the morning at this time of year the birds in a tree just outside my bedroom window start singing. I imagine they are singing to me. I think of that tree, like the bush in today’s gospel, the one that grew from a tiny mustard seed, as if it were a place, a safe haven, for all of us. 

However, most birds are territorial. Likewise, we who occupy this bush, this tree of life, are not always compatible. We fight for space, food, water, privileges, power and fame. Often it is hard to spread our individual wings to sing of goodness.

Jesus told the stories of the mustard seed, the weeds and wheat for a reason. As John Pilch reminds us the Mediterranean society in the time of Jesus was agonistic — hostile and conflict oriented. If you were born into a Middle East family you inherited its honor, status and friends but also its enemies who would try to shame you. Honor and shame are key words in understanding Middle Eastern culture. Jesus was mindful of these tensions when he told these parables. [1] 

In the gospel Jesus saw the wheat representing the outcasts he welcomed and with whom he ate many meals. He compares the weeds to the authorities who ruled over those people, trying to shame them as well as Jesus. [2] Rather than fight back at his enemies the landowner in the story did not seek revenge upon his enemy. He outwitted them because he really did nothing. He let the weeds and wheat grow together.

Today can we imagine Israel and Palestine doing nothing but sitting down to iron out their differences? How about the Russians and Ukrainians? And in our country how about Republicans and Democrats trying to find agreement on how to fix the United States so all citizens would have an equal chance to find a spot in our national tree of life without worrying that someone will knock them off a branch or shut them out of the sustenance and shelter the bush provides? 

To have power, over the other, the other political party, the other nation is hard to give up. Fear often drives the urge to accumulate power. The increasingly volatile situation in the Middle East and the Russian-Ukrainian conflict risks death to innocent people in order to solidify power. 

In the United States we are caught in a similar situation. It may not appear as dangerous but beneath the vibrant colors of liberty there are stains of injustice, greed and power mongering. It rears its ugly heads not in rockets, invasions and boycotts but mean spiritedness and ideological jockeying in constitutional debates, neighborhood shootings and borderline acts of hatred toward people, even children, who just want to perch on a branch in a tree that gives them life.

Sophia in the Book of Wisdom today suggests that God’s care is for all people, even the weeds among the wheat. In addressing God, she says, “Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us.” [3] She adds, “those who are just must be kind.” [4]  In paraphrasing the words of today’s second reading … the whole world is “groaning” for kindness, for justice.

There is room for all of us in that bush born of the mustard seed. There is enough space for the weeds and the wheat in that tree where the birds of happiness sing about the goodness of God and one another. We just need to move over once in awhile, to make space, to let others in.


1 John J. Pilch. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (The Liturgical Press. 1995) pp. 112-114.

2 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Liturgical Press. 2006 – Third Edition) pp. 158-160

3 Tobin, Thomas in Attridge, Harold W. (Ed.) The Harper Collins Study Bible NRSV (San Francisco: Harper) 1989, p. 1349 ff.

4 DeBona, Guerric. Between the Ambo and the Altar: Biblical Preaching and the Roman Missal Year A. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2013, 210


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

6 thoughts on “Homily – 20 July 2014 – Of Justice and Kindness

  1. This homily wonderfully weaves together the scripture readings and the signs of the times. It seems that so many people here in the US and in other places of conflict are afraid that if they admit that others also have a claim to freedom and the material things they need to live, there won’t be enough for the first group. They see the world through the lens of scarcity.

    But Jesus reveals a world of abundance, where sharing multiplies what we need. Remember the little boy with five loaves (think dinner rolls) and two fish? Depending on which gospel account you’re reading, more than 2,000 or 5,000 had their fill, and still there were 12 baskets of fragments left over.


  2. So right on! Mind if I make a copy?


  3. The imagery in this homily is just beautiful. Sophia is clearly guiding you to challenge us.


  4. Hi Richard,

    Yesterday we were so busy discussing short men and ministerial voices, I forgot to tell you that your homily was so well-constructed and so creative. Those birds (!) outside your window clearly inspired you.



  5. So beautifully stated, Fr. Richard but it was the profound image of the tree that caught my attention. Lisa Marie Calderone-Stewart, an author and wonderful woman who worked with youth until her death almost 2 years ago, had this at the end of her book entitled, “I Wasn’t Dead When I Wrote This” (which she was asked by her publisher to write weeks before she died),

    “What does the green leaf, still firmly attached to the tree, need to know from the crinkled-up brown one, seconds before the wind snatches it off and whirls it away? What could the brown one possibly have to offer? Other than this: “The best part of my life has been the honor of sharing this tree branch with you…”

    Thank you for always deeply praying the readings for us.


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