Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Once again, in the Gospel Jesus has used a parable that reminded me of how much I hated weeding the garden and the berries as a child. When it came to the garden and the berry patch my Dad wanted to see only the cultivated bushes and freshly turned dirt; and no weeds, not even a blade of grass. I always argued for letting the grass grow, especially around the blue berries since it didn’t seem to me it could cause any harm. He argued that the grass might steal nutrients and moisture from the berries. When I read today’s first Gospel parable about the weeds and wheat, I wish I had been more scripturally literate as a child, I might have argued that letting the grass grow was scriptural. Although in the parable leaving the weeds alone was not about making things easier. To pull the weeds might actually harm rather than help the wheat.
First of all the parable is a statement about the reality of the world in which we followers of Jesus Christ must live. We may receive the gift of faith and the grace of salvation fully, yet we must live in a world where evil exists. People, including ourselves, retain the free will to make evil choices. We must live with the enemy in our midst or alongside us. Sometimes it is the enemy of the wrongful distractions or attractions of the world, the temptations to selfishness or indulgence that weaken our commitment to good. It can be the enemy of our own imperfect human nature in which our reason does not always regulate our desires and order them according to charity and human dignity. And yes, we do still believe in that mysterious evil one, the devil, who is still allowed to seek to influence us in his jealousy over our relationship with God.
The realism of weeds and wheat calls for us to be vigilant in our embrace of the good of our relationship with God, our place in the garden of His kingdom. It is the kingdom which allows God rule our hearts and minds. It is the kingdom that makes many blessings of our benevolent King available to us. The kingdom calls for the vigilance of prayer, sacraments, worship, fellowship and faithful actions. And the parable does conclude with the sobering reminder that there will be a judgment at the end of time and the end of our lives, when those who embrace good will be rewarded with the harvest of eternal life. Those who use their freedom to sell out to evil won’t…….
But I think there is more. I always like to carefully read the first reading, the old testament reading which the Church assigns to go with the Gospel. While the first reading notes that our God is a God of might and justice, it also says that He does judge with clemency. And so in sharing the fullest message of today’s assigned scriptures I think it is important to include the other two kingdom parables. The kingdom of God is not only a place, an existence where good coexists with evil, the kingdom of God is destined to grow. It grows like the tiny mustard seed into a large hospitable tree. The kingdom of God is a place, a state, which is to influence the world and the people around it. Like the yeast in dough Christians are called to raise up the culture around them.
So, the coexistence of evil with the good of the kingdom of God is to, in fact, provide the opportunity for the good of the kingdom of God to influence and convert, so that increasingly good overcomes evil in all its forms and places. In fact all of us are not without our weedier times or moments. Maybe we have experienced a serious departure from the faith in our lives. We no doubt experience moments when we are less witnesses to the good of God’s kingdom, and more witnesses to the evil that works against God’s rule.
There is an important caution here. That is to not confuse the leniency of God, His desire for with indifference about behaviors which are contrary to God’s revelation and therefore harmful whether one knows it or not, or whether one believes that. It is such a faith in the truth of God’s revelation that should propel us in two directions. First we must be vigilant about the danger of being choked by weeds. Those are the weeds of the world, the flesh and the devil I referred to earlier. We maintain vigilance through our prayer, our learning, our fellowship with supportive fellow believers and our engagement in the apostolate, works of service in Church and community. Beyond vigilance there is should be the desire and the effort to convert the weeds: the weeds in our own hearts and actions, and the weeds of those around us. Of course this must be approached in imitation of God’s generous mercy. But it is a mercy that does not fail to recognize our need to change and the value of helping our brothers and sisters to change as well.