Thursday, 17 July 2008

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

Wisdom 12:13.16-19; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43

The gospel tells us of a field. The field is the world. Jesus is the master of the field. Jesus sows seed - good seed, of course - the subjects of the kingdom. Hopefully that's us. The seed grows and matures until the harvest. At the end of time the angels will come and gather it into the kingdom - that is, into heaven.


That's a pretty good story, isn't it?

But there's more - there's a nasty surprise! Secretly, in the dark of night, Satan has come to the field and sown another crop among the good seed - darnel - a horrible weed which is useless to anyone.

Satan is the enemy of Jesus. He wants to spoil everything, not just the field but us as well. All those in whom this seed takes root become the subjects of the evil one. Hopefully that's not us. They will be gathered into bundles and burnt - or in other words, thrown into hell.

That, simply put, is the parable Jesus offers us today. It's really a great teaching parable and has echoes, which I'm sure you've noticed, of the account in Genesis of the creation of the world. God made the world and the first two people and saw that it was good. Then Satan came along behind God's back, so to speak, and succeeded in sowing his seeds of evil in God's good creation.

So what can we draw from this parable? Who is it for? Let's just name a few categories of people who might find this parable speaks strongly to them.
  • Firstly, it is for that group of people who can't see their own goodness.
This group of people is so conscious of sin that they can no longer see goodness. They really need to pray for an experience of that love of God from which all self-love and a sense of self-worth comes. God loves the good in us much more than he hates evil and that's why he is willing to put up with it for so long - giving us lots of time ‘til we ripen and are ready for the harvest. At this point I can only affirm that God made us good, he loves us, and he patiently waits for us to respond to his love.
  • This parable is also for those who can't see their own evil.
Another great tragedy! I've been called to anoint people who haven't been to Confession for 40 years and who confidently tell me they have no sin to confess. I always tell them they are very lucky people! But, really, it's a tragedy. If after all that time you have a good conscience, you probably have a short memory too.

Part of a healthy relationship with ourselves is to be able to recognise and admit to the darnel that is growing within us. Perhaps this is why Jesus said to the Pharisee: I have come for the sick, not for the healthy. Jesus came for sinners, and if we don’t recognise ourselves as sinners we won't see any need for Jesus.
  • This parable is also meant for perfectionists.
Are you a perfectionist? Remember that Jesus told us to be perfect, not perfectionists.

A perfectionist is one who can't bear to live with imperfection, either within himself or in his immediate environment. These people drive themselves silly - and often a whole lot of other people as well because they are always trying to be who they are not.

It's not that we are supposed to ignore the darnel, of course we have to struggle for conversion, but in the meantime we have to accept the darnel is there and learn, somehow, to live with it, even as we stuggle against it, until the Lord removes it for us. The great temptation for perfectionists is to give up altogether. They say 'Well, if I can't be all good I'll be all bad'.
  • This parable is also meant for those of us who make a habit of judging others.
I remember when I left the cathedral parish to take up a new appointment. There was a couple there who's baby I had baptised but who were not coming to Mass on Sundays and were not in any way involved. I don't mind admitting that I thought some unkind things about them. When I came back to that parish three years later as Administrator and was processing in for the first Mass I was met at the front door by that same couple who were now handing out the bulletins and welcoming people as they came in. What a lesson for me! Don't judge!

Don't pull up the darnel because you might be pulling up wheat. Don't say 'I want them punished and I want it NOW!' When we do this we are playing God and we forget that only the powerful can show mercy. Your sovereignty over all makes you lenient to all.
  • Finally, this parable is meant for those who don't believe in hell.
Only a few weeks ago I was told of a priest who read the Gospel and just 'left out' the word hell. He just edited Jesus’ words. This is a crime! There is wheat and darnel and there is heaven and hell.

Jesus says the darnel will be burned. At other times he is more explicit, like last week in the weekday Mass, he said, You will be cast down to hell.

Hell is also the solid de fide teaching of the Church. This means that to be truly a Catholic we must believe in and fully accept this teaching, even though we may not understand it. A mature Christian humbly accepts the full package otherwise what happens is that we reduce the Gospel to the level of our understanding. This would be fatal and soon there would be no Gospel left.


Faith is a wonderful thing when it is complete. Then it sets us free and promises life. We will all struggle with parts of our faith from time to time but let us then ask for light and understanding and believe that it will be given.

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