16th. Sunday of Year (A)
(Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, among those regarding themselves as devout Jews in the time of Jesus were at least two groups who claimed to be the ‘holy remnant’, alone faithful to the commands of Israel’s God-given Law in its fullness, and who thought they, exclusively, would usher in the coming Kingdom of God; outsiders were, they thought, ‘beyond the Pale’. Thus, they formed two, not only ‘holy’ but also ‘closed’ remnants, distinct from merely nominal Israelites by reason of their passionate adherence to and rigid observance of their own unique understanding of the requirements for authentic Mosaic liturgical purity, traditional piety, and personal asceticism.
Of these two groups, the Pharisees, separated themselves from other people’s popular society but not from their physical proximity; whereas the monastic community of the Essenes carried out this separation at Qumran in the Judean desert, near the Dead Sea and as far as possible from sinful Jerusalem. The Pharisees set out to promote the priestly character of the Jewish people by their religious observance and spiritual practices, while the Essenes pursued and expressed the same claim for their members even in their clothing: each member of the order, even the laity, wore a white linen robe, the ceremonial dress of priests in office. The Pharisaic movement demanded ritual washing of hands before meals from all its members; the Essene community exaggerated this requirement to the extent that it demanded a full bath before every meal, in order to achieve the highest possible standards of purity.
And how exclusive these groups were! Even the physically handicapped were not allowed to belong to the assembly of the Essene community. So what hope was there for sinners?
The biggest difference between them, however, was that the Essene community ‘legislated’ for themselves, whereas the Pharisees assumed for themselves the mantle of Moses, as authoritative teachers not only for their members but also for the whole People of Israel.
Such pride and presumption on their part merited Jesus’ whole-hearted disgust:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15)
And consequently, the Pharisees went ‘the whole hog’ in their claim for recognition as unique teachers in Israel by deliberately and diligently seeking out and publicly decrying Jesus, before finally colluding with Herodians and High Priests to make use of the over-riding and heartily-hated Roman power to have Him crucified for the sake of their exclusive understanding of not only the Law of Moses but, indeed, of the very will of God, as Jesus to their deep chagrin had long recognized and even dared to proclaim (Mark 7:8-9), saying:
‘You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition. How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition.
Now, separation from ‘outsiders’ was completely alien to the ‘Church’ community founded by Jesus, as was patently clear from the way in which He recommended His disciples to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind to their table; and from His own sitting at table with the friends of Levi/Matthew, the former tax-collector become a disciple, and uttering those most famous words of public reprimand to critical Pharisees:
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice’. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:31s.)
What distinguished Jesus from the Pharisees was first of all the authenticity of His Personally unique authority for Israel, for He was the Son of Him Whom the Jews said was their God, He was the Son sent by His Father for Israel’s fulfilling and salvation; and He was distinguished also by the universality of His message of salvation: fulfilling and transcending its former Jewish ‘edition’ and proclaiming His Father’s will to save all – high and low, Jews and Gentiles -- without exception: all, that is, who would turn to Him, Jesus, in faith, as the Messianic Son of Man, and Son of the Father uniquely able by His Personal self-sacrifice and gift of the Spirit to bring about the eternal salvation of each and every person willing to repent in response to His Good News of God’s great mercy and goodness.
Of course, Jesus was aware that there would ultimately be a division between sinners and those chosen, for He preached a call to repentance and not all want to repent from the evil of their self-promoting and self-satisfying practices which ultimately and inevitably destroy their hosts and perpetrators. In Jesus’ public and popularly-understood parables that division is clearly shown and taught: there were five wise virgins with five foolish ones, there were goats and sheep that needed to be ultimately separated. However, the final manifestation and separation is not for this world, and so there always was and is still a chance for all who hear the Lord’s message – now proclaimed world-wide by the teaching of His Church -- to open themselves up to His offer of boundless mercy and saving grace, and seek to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance.
And so, in the field of the Church wheat and tares live side by side, for the ever-possible improvement and benefit even of the human tares: for the fruitless and sinful members of the Church do receive and can profit from countless blessings percolating down to them because innumerable saintly men and women have lived, and are still living, holy but largely inconspicuous lives: unknown to those around them but not unnoticed by God, Who for the sake of such fruitful and much-loved disciples of Jesus, pours out innumerable blessings upon all in Mother Church. We cannot know how much each of us may owe to some simple, holy, person we neither knew nor would perhaps have sufficiently appreciated if we had known them. Conversely however -- and we should never forget this -- every time we knowingly sin, we harm the whole Church by impeding the full and free flow of grace throughout the whole Body, just as when some cell or organ fails to function appropriately in our own physical bodies.
But the wheat and the tares growing together are not only to be found in a farmer’s field as in Jesus’ parable, not only in Mother Church, but also in our individual lives; and some saints -- for example, the Curé of Ars -- are known to have asked God to let them see their sins as they really were. That holy and humble Curé, however, was unable to bear what he was allowed to see, and he immediately besought God, of His great mercy, to withdraw the vision.
And there are many sinners today who find their lives intolerable under that stress, as the number of suicides -- even by the young, the rich, the ’successful’ -- testifies, and as a very famous French philosopher, Blaise Paschal, observed:
‘Whoever fails to see the vanity of the world must be vain himself. For who does fail to see it except those young people surrounded with noise, distractions, and dreams of the future? Now, take away their distractions and you will almost see them dry up with weariness; they then feel their nothingness without recognizing it; how unfortunate it must be to find oneself in unbearable sadness as soon as one is forced to think about one’s self, one’s own state, and not to be distracted from that thought.’
‘If our condition were really happy, we would not find it necessary to seek our happiness in distractions.’
Well, that is what Christian life is all about. It is meant, in God’s great goodness, to give us real happiness, true love and fulfilment, deep peace, and unshakeable hope; it is meant to make us fully human, more human than any irreligious life – no matter however charismatically endowed and successful -- could ever make us. For Jesus Christ alone was and is Perfect God and Perfect Man possessing the keys of life-and- love both here on earth and in heaven, and He wants so much – yes, even to the extent of allowing Himself to be crucified – to save men and women from making themselves into junkies and pleasure-seekers of all kinds -- using, abusing, themselves and/or other people, even infants!--- into power-seekers promoting violence and fear, into swindlers great and small, bringing institutions to ruin or robbing even the poorest of whatever pittance they may have for food and shelter! And our modern slave-traders practice a business far, far, more evil than that of the slave holders of Roman times!
Dear People of God, this week-end we have some very topical and comforting teaching concerning Mother Church in Our Blessed Lord’s three parables.
First of all, note that God puts good seed in His field of the Church by drawing souls to Jesus through the discipline of faith and the obedience of love, and so we can and should reverence, respect, and whole-heartedly trust Mother Church for that good seed of God sown in her and growing to maturity through her teaching and sacraments; and that good seed is still bringing forth fruit for the Lord, fruit which, when left standing upright after the weeds have been collected and burnt, will be found fit to be joyfully and gratefully ‘gathered into the Lord’s barn’.
Again, there are many in the world looking for, and aspiring to, Mother Church. The mustard seed parable urges such little birds not to fly to the ‘mountains’ for human help:
In the Lord I take refuge, how can you say to me, ‘Flee like a bird to the mountains’? (Psalm 11:1),
but rather to seek and find real shelter and true rest from all storms and predators in the shelter of the Kingdom of God and in a personal relationship with Him Who is supremely Personal, loving, and loveable.
The parable of the leaven shows us yet another aspect of the Kingdom of God here on earth in which the power of Mother Church’s teaching, worship, and fellowship can not only illuminate some of the most pressing human questions and most immediate personal difficulties and anxieties we encounter daily, but which can penetrate to the very core of our being and lift up the whole tone of our life to transcendent aspirations that will lead us ultimately to eternal fulfilment and a human joy divinised beyond all our earthly imagining in the Lord.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ we owe such much to Our Lord for this blessed time spent at Mass for His glory and our refreshment! To Him be glory, honour, and our whole-hearted and most grateful thanks now and for ever.