16th Sunday Year (A)
(Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43)
Today, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the parable of the tares, the darnel, or, as we would call them, the weeds, sown in a field of good corn, we have Jesus’ answer to those who complain about, or accuse, Mother Church in order to justify their own lack of faith. Their complaint, their accusation, frequently ends like this: “You don't need to go to Church in order to live a good life.”
Strangely enough, the supremely devout Pharisees of Jesus’ time were somewhat akin to some of our faithless Catholics today in the sense that both like to imagine an exclusive religious community into which only those considered holy are to be admitted. One great grief the Pharisees had against Jesus was that He did not accept their oral traditions as true criteria for holiness, for He demanded from His disciples a holiness greater than that of the Pharisees. On the other hand, He did not despise some individuals commonly regarded as sinners nor did He refuse contact with them; indeed, He was, at times, to be found eating and drinking with them, and even went so far as to call one of them to become His disciple!
Minutely observing Jesus’ behaviour, the Scribes and Pharisees were constantly repeating to themselves thoughts like to those of Simon, their fellow Pharisee who, once having invited Jesus to a meal in his home, found himself mentally criticising Jesus’ patient indulgence towards a reputedly sinful woman who had ‘thrust’ herself, uninvited, among their company:
This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner. (Luke 7:39)
Even John the Baptist, sent to prepare the way for Jesus, may have had a certain natural sympathy with Simon and the Pharisees, for didn't he say of Jesus (Lk. 3:16-17):
I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, and He will gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire?
John, however, actually proclaimed that the One coming after him, the Messiah -- baptizing indeed with the Holy Spirit and fire and thoroughly winnowing and cleansing His threshing floor -- would definitively, and in the name of God, separate the wheat from the chaff, whereas the Pharisees considered they themselves, here and now, to be sufficiently learned, manifestly holy, and legally authorized, to separate the good from the bad as they might see best.
John was right, Jesus, the Messiah will gather the wheat into his barn and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire; but He will do that in His Father’s own good time; and until that judgement time, all who are called, both good and bad, devout and neglectful, will remain together in the field of Jesus’ planting, which is His Church.
Of course, we are not considering here those who openly and seriously contemn the teaching of Mother Church or those who would openly lead astray her faithful by their bad example, for St. Paul -- whom we so often today fear to follow -- clearly instructed his converts to get rid of such people: here we are thinking of those who, like weeds, hide themselves among the corn; those who outwardly seem to be part of the living, growing, fruit-promising crop, but inwardly are not. Bearing that in mind, let us listen again to Jesus’ answer to His own ancient adversaries and to His Church’s modern critics:
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. The servants said to him, 'Do you want us then to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”'
That pseudo-wheat mentioned in Jesus’ parable was well known in those days and was considered a great nuisance. It resembled wheat in appearance but had no marketable value, nor was it of any use for eating. The rabbis described it as “prostituted wheat”. Sowing this stuff in someone’s field was a well-known crime: the Romans had a law against such actions, which said that “If you have sown tares into another’s field so that you might damage its productivity, not only can the master (of that field) act with force or covertly, but … also he can sue for damages.” Jesus was telling a parable about events that were part and parcel of the lives of those listening to Him.
Notice, first of all, that this parable shows us that Jesus knows full that there are weeds as well as wheat to be found in mother Church. Indeed, in His parable, the problem is so urgent that the master’s workers say: “Should we root out these weeds at once?” The master, however, knows more about the agricultural issues involved: for the roots of the tares are mixed together with those of the wheat, pull one up and you draw both. Therefore, he decides to delay the removal of the weeds: while the crop is growing let both weeds and wheat remain together; however, when it is harvest time, the wheat is to be separated and put into the barn, while the tares are to be bound into bundles for burning for, though they are useless for food, they can be used as fuel for the fire.
What, therefore, is the teaching of Jesus for us today, People of God?
To answer that question, we must look carefully at today’s readings since they could, at first glance, seem to be concerned that no impressions be gathered nor thoughts admitted about who are good Catholics and who are not good Catholics. Indeed, the Gospel could be easily misunderstood to imply that since it is only for the Lord to judge, therefore, until His judgement time, all disciples are to live and worship together in mutual acceptance, appreciation, and affirmation …. a nice family where no one rocks the boat by disapproving of what others might be doing or by seeking standards higher than those popularly acceptable. Such an attitude has, of course, already penetrated and permeated some parishes with the result that both the dignity of divine worship and the integrity of catholic moral teaching are being disregarded or called into question, and such behaviour is being tolerated, falsely, in the name of fraternal charity. True fraternal charity, however, is intended to support and indeed gently raise the level and increase the beauty of Christian life in the Church of Christ, not to accommodate, let alone facilitate, a gradual downward slide in the integrity of Catholic worship and moral aspirations.
However, that is certainly not the concern of today’s Gospel reading which is totally centred on the kingdom of heaven in its earthly constitution and development. There are, indeed, individual members in that kingdom, both good and bad, but it is the good of the kingdom itself which is the supreme consideration; and this is put before us that we might, in all things, both have present concern for and ultimate confidence in Mother Church, the beginning for us here on earth of the kingdom of heaven.
People of God, we should not to allow ourselves to be over-scandalized, and most certainly not put-off Mother Church, because of the behaviour of individuals, be they every so highly placed, ever so many, ever so arrogant or despicable. We must never forget those words of St. Peter in answer to Our Lord (John 6:67–68):
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Nor should we ever become despondent over Mother Church in her trials, no matter how powerful or popular her enemies may become; because in every parable of today’s Gospel reading God’s wheat is finally and successfully gathered in, the minute mustard seed becomes a tree offering shelter and refuge, and the yeast ultimately permeates and leavens the chosen measure.
The corn sown by Jesus can grow only in the field which He, the Lord and Saviour, has chosen; any seed that falls by the wayside, among thorns or on the stony path, surely perishes in one way or another. The seed of Jesus’ planting is His Word proclaimed authoritatively by the Apostles chosen by Jesus and subsequently sent out by Him to bring His Good News to the whole world, and such seed can only grow in Jesus' Church, watered by life-giving showers of His Most Holy Spirit. Moreover, in that field there will always be true and faithful workers to be found, called and appointed by the Master to look after the seed He has sown; and through them, by His Spirit, He will always provide His People with the guidance and spiritual nourishment they need, nor He will ever fail to endow them with the grace and spiritual inspiration necessary for their supernatural fulfilment.
There is an aspect of life in the Church for the Kingdom, however, that is not always sufficiently appreciated by Church members today but which is perfectly obvious to any present-day large-scale farmer just as it was to our Gospel’s little field-owner watching his crop grow; namely, the fact that, just as weeds hinder the growth, the vitality, and the quality of a good crop, so also those of sinful life in the Church harm all who are in the Church. This is what we must bear in mind today when we see Mother Church disfigured in so many ways, short of vocations, and bereft of children. The disfigurement we may be tempted to complain about is brought upon her by her own children’s sins: and indeed, to some extent, by the wrong we ourselves may have done or the good we may have failed to promote or protect. Rather, therefore, than allowing ourselves to give way to so-called righteous indignation (which should really be recognized as self-righteous indignation) about this or that aspect of the Church, we should pity her, love her all the more, because she is suffering for the sins of those she believed were her true children; and I doubt whether there has ever been anything done or perpetrated by others throughout the history of Mother Church which does not find some trace or echo in our own personal weaknesses and failings as Catholics in Mother Church today.
Sometimes in films and fiction, and even in the liberal talk of those wanting to show themselves in a popular light, we are presented with the picture of a jolly sinner, a loveable rogue, an attractive scoundrel; or again, with a Christian who understands all, sympathizes with and embraces all, condemning no sin for such great love of the sinner, and apparently having no convictions other than a desire to accommodate with whatever is with men. In actual fact though, such sinners, rogues, and paragons, are the very wolves in sheep's clothing of which the Gospel elsewhere speaks and assures us that they only tend to kill and destroy, for there is nothing lovable in condoned sin and indulged weakness.
People of God, we should always have a loving, personal, concern for and commitment to, Mother Church, and therefore we must always confidently hope and trust in Jesus, as we were encouraged in the first reading:
Your might is the source of justice; Your mastery over all things makes You lenient to all; (and) You show Your might when the perfection of Your power is disbelieved. But though You are master of might, You judge with clemency, and with much lenience You govern us; for power, whenever You will, attends You.
And it is to His Spirit that we should always turn in our prayers and needs, for the Holy Spirit has been given both to protect Mother Church and to form each and every one of us, uniquely, in Jesus, for the Father. Remember and treasure the words of St. Paul in our second reading:
In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the One who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because It intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.