25 Jul Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 23, 2017
Father Shawn Hughes
Homilies are never the creative act of one person. So as we begin to post these homilies on our website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be nothing original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it. ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures.
God bless you.
This week in the gospel we hear three more parables of the Kingdom of God from chapter 13 of Matthew’s gospel in which Jesus sketches the situation of the Church in the world. The grain of mustard seed that becomes a tree indicates the growth of the Kingdom of God on earth. Also the parable of leaven in the dough signifies the growth of the Kingdom, not so much in extension as in intensity. It indicates the transforming force of the Gospel that like a little bit of yeast raises the dough.
These two parables are easily understood. However, the third, the seeds and the weeds, Jesus needed to explain separately.
Matthew uses a Greek term (zizania,) for weed which in the first century refers to darnel, a noxious weed, that closely resembles wheat and is plentiful in Israel. The difference between darnel and real wheat is evident only when the plants mature and the ears appear. The ears of the real wheat are heavy and will droop, while the ears of the darnel stand up straight.
When the householder’s slaves notice the weeds, their first response is to question the quality of the seed. “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” (13:27) Implying everything that God does is good, the master replies that an enemy has sown the weeds. The slaves are anxious to take care of the problem, to root those nasty weeds right out. But the master restrains them, saying that in gathering the weeds they would uproot the wheat along with them. He orders them to let both grow together until the harvest. Then he will send out his reapers to collect and burn the weeds and to gather the wheat into his barn (13:28-30).
In the clearest of terms, Jesus tells his disciples what almost every element of the parable represents: “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels” (13:37-39). Jesus does not, however, say whom the slaves represent. Perhaps the slaves represent the disciples, or anyone who hears this parable and its interpretation.
Who among us has not questioned why God allows evil to continue to exist? One of the principal motives of embarrassment for believers and of rejection of God by nonbelievers has always been the evil that exists in the world.
Who among us has not wanted to take matters into our own hands and root out the evil in our midst? The master stops the slaves from doing anything of the sort. For one thing, it is not so easy to tell the weeds from the wheat, and for another, their roots are intertwined below the ground. Rooting out the weeds would uproot the wheat as well, doing more damage to the crop than leaving the weeds to grow.
Jesus says that the reapers — not the slaves — will take care of this at harvest time. “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (13:41-43). It is the angels — not any human beings — who are authorized to pluck out the weeds from the wheat.
St. Augustine, in reflecting on this parable said the field is, indeed, the world, but it is also the Church, the place in which saints and sinners live side-by-side, and in which there is room to grow and to be converted. “The evildoers,” he said, “exist in this way either so that they will be converted, or because through them the good exercise patience.”
There are wheat and weeds also in every one of us, not only in the world and in the Church, and this should render us less ready to point the finger. Our own faults should make us more patient and compassionate with the faults of others.
Jesus once said to St. Peter himself: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block (skandalon) to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Matthew 16:23) In spite of these strong words and Peter’s repeated failings, Jesus does not give up on Peter; rather, he entrusts the future of his mission to him and the rest of his less than perfect disciples. As the truism states: Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future.
The world’s great writers, novelists and poets give us no ultimate answer to the problem of evil’s origins. The Bible tells us that Lucifer was one of the greatest of all God’s angels. His name, Lucifer, means “Light Bearer.” He was one of highest of God’s creatures; he bore God’s own light. And yet… he became the Prince of Darkness. The reason? Lucifer put his will before God’s will. He refused to obey God. He opted to go his own way. He defied God.
Jesus said the same thing to St. Peter: “for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
One of the reasons evil exists is so that we can intentionally make a choice for God: so that we can intentionally set our mind on divine things and away from human things. Because of our fallen nature, because of original sin, in spiritual and moral decisions, we incline towards selfishness. That is why pride, anger, impatience, lust, annoyance, greed, jealousy appear on our hearts. But at the first instance they are not sinful. They are temptations. We are given a choice. If our mind is set on human things we give in to the temptation and let the pride, anger, impatience, lust, annoyance, greed, jealousy control us. We don’t resist them and sin occurs.
If our mind is set on divine things, we resist the temptation, pray a quick “Come Holy Spirit,” or if it is particularly intense, a full “Our Father”…or two… or more…and the temptation goes away.
A line from the Letter of St. James is very instructive here…James chapter 4:v. 7 says “Resist the devil and he will take flight. Draw close to God and he will draw close to you.”
Another main subject of the parable, however, is neither the seeds nor the weeds, but God’s patience. If we look at the first reading and the psalm, both chosen to compliment the gospel, we see a hymn to God’s strength that is manifested under the form of patience and indulgence. God’s patience is not simply patience, namely, awaiting the Day of Judgment so as to punish more severely. It is forbearance, mercy, the will to save. In Hope and Trust the psalmist cries out: “Lord, you are good and forgiving.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, what do we do with the problem of evil? That’s one of the questions raised in today’s readings. Answering the question is a big problem for all of us. Just what do we do when it comes to ridding ourselves and our world of evil? The Scripture passages in today’s first reading and today’s gospel account suggest that we deal with evil as God deals with it, with patience and forbearance. Evil will eventually reveal itself and evil will eventually suffer the consequences it brings down upon itself. Sin brings with it its own suffering and punishment in this world and most assuredly in the next. We need to trust that! Trust that through the suffering, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the victory over evil has been won.
Evil can never get the upper hand unless we allow him to.
We have the choice. Pope Francis has said “The line that separates good from evil is found in the human heart” The outside world is not what “makes us saints or not saints,” the Holy Father observes, but “rather it is the heart that expresses our intentions, our choices and the desire to do everything for God’s love,” or not.
Jesus was constantly criticizing hypocrites who honour God “with their lips” but not with their hearts.
In today’s parable we are called to see the Church, the Kingdom of God and the world from the view of eternity. Hence, what Jesus says at the end of his explanation of the parable of the weeds should be a reason for consolation for the victims, and of healthy dread for the violent. “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with the fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his Kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.”
There are no “quick-fix” and easy solutions. Patience and forbearance are necessary, and to have patience and forbearance one must have faith. This is what Jesus is calling us to have – faith in our heavenly Father’s plan, faith in our heavenly Father’s ultimate ways of dealing with us and with our world. We have to believe in God’s goodness and believe in His love for all that is good in our world. Reliance on God and acceptance of His ways is the only way we can overcome evil both in our world and in our individual lives.
Isn’t that the faith which Jesus modelled when he suffered His agony in the Garden of Gethsemani and as He hung dying on the cross? The Evil One tempted Him to despair. But Jesus remained steadfast, confident that in the end, at harvest time, His Father in heaven would harvest the good wheat and burn the darnel. Dying, Jesus handed over His fate to His Father in heaven.
A key message today is that Jesus invites us to share in His vision, in His hope, and in His faith that in the end God will bring good out of evil if we choose to follow Him who is the way, the truth, and the life.
In this light a key Scripture for us is Romans Chapter 8:28
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Not some things. Not a few things. All things work together for good – for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” All things.