Monday, July 21, 2008

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

First Reading:
Wis 12:13, 16-19

There is no god besides you who have the care of all,
that you need show you have not unjustly condemned.
For your might is the source of justice;
your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all.
For you show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved;
and in those who know you, you rebuke temerity.
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 you taught your people, by these deeds,
that those who are just must be kind;
and you gave your children good ground for hope
that you would permit repentance for their sins.

Mt 13:24-43 or 13:24-30

Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened
to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.
When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.
The slaves of the householder came to him and said,
‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?
Where have the weeds come from?’
He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’
His slaves said to him,
‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds
you might uproot the wheat along with them.
Let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters,
“First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning;
but gather the wheat into my barn.”

Today’s first reading is taken from the Book of Wisdom. Of all the books in the Old Testament, this one was the very last one to be written, about 100 years before the birth of Jesus. So it comes as no surprise that this short work serves as a sort of meditation on everything that God had revealed to the people of Israel from the times of Genesis all the way to just before the birth of the messiah. We can think about this book as a kind of biblical “cliff notes” (Children, if you do not know what a “cliff notes” is, just wait until you get to high school and college)

We can honestly say that the Book of Wisdom is the last time God speaks though the old prophets. The next time he speaks it will be through angels that will announce the birth of His only begotten Son, Jesus, The Christ.

Historians tell us that the Book of Wisdom was written about 150 years after the land of Israel had fallen under the control of Greek conqueror Alexander the Great. Throughout all this time, the people of Israel had been forced to accept Greek culture and reject the old Jewish religion. So when the author of this book sat down to write must likely he did it because he was dismayed by how much the culture of their conquerors was affecting the world in which he lived.

History tells us again that this was a time of deep religious skepticism on the part of the people of Israel. The idea that if it felt good, then it must be good, was taking over the ideas given by God in the 10 commandments. The people of this time felt unhappy with the Jewish religion, and were outright rejecting the faith of their fathers and embracing the very secular philosophies of their conquerors. To make maters worst a lot of the people that was trying to hold to the old traditions… compromised, and started practicing a “watered down” version of their religion, picking and choosing what they liked and rejecting what they did not like. They did this, in part, because they where afraid of being ridiculed by their peers and neighbors, and in part because they looked around and saw that only those that conformed to secular culture where accepted by the rest. To put it in simple terms the culture of this time was suffering of a deep “crisis of faith”.

By now I hope you can see the many similarities between our culture and the culture of this time. So that, you will agree with me when I say that although the Book of Wisdom was written 2200 years ago it has something to say today, to us Catholics of the 21 century.

Now it seems that when this book was written there were still a small group people trying to hold fast to their faith. The problem was that these people were getting discouraged and were starting to ask the question that I’m sure many of us have asked before “Why doesn’t God do something about it?, Why doesn’t he get rid of all those that are destroying our faith, ridiculing our beliefs and poisoning our culture?” To these very well intentioned people the Book of Wisdom gives a very simple answer: God is merciful, He judges with clemency and rules the word with leniency because he always gives his children, all of His children, a chance to repent.

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us a powerful illustration of this fact. He compares His kingdom with a planted field in which wheat and weeds grow together when asked by His servants to “pull out” all the bad seeds he says “No, let the field grow and I will make sure to separate them during the harvest”.

There are three reasons for this answer: the first one is the obvious one, if you pull the weeds you might lose some of the wheat. If God were to get rid of all the misguided souls that reject His message of repentance and redemption, what would happen to the rest of us? Are we to live a life of fear, wandering what would happen if we were to “stray of the path”? If He were to do this He would end up not with children that loved Him but with people that feared Him. God does not want to rule by fear but by love, and what a better way to show this love than by showing mercy to those who are separated from him?

The second reason is not as obvious: Unlike the weeds in Jesus story, humans can change. weeds cannot understand the errors they commit, they cannot repent and seek forgiveness, but we can. As long as there is mercy there is hope for all of us. We can turn to God at any time and seek his forgiveness. This is why he is so patient with all of his children.

And the third reason is the challenge of today’s Gospel for us; we are called to live among the weeds. We are called to show all those that do not share our values that we have the answers, the real answers to all of the problems in our culture. And we are called to do this by rooting ourselves in the good ground of the gospel and producing good and strong fruits.

The message of the book of Wisdom has not changed at all! God’s mercy knows no bounds. It is given freely to anyone willing to accept that the world in which we live does not have the answers they are seeking. We might think that God is unjust because he does not deal with sinners in the way we would like Him to. But in fact we should be grateful he does not do this, because this is how he shows His love for the good and the bad.

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who planted good seeds in his fields, and waited, and waited and waited in the hope that when harvest comes, everything he sowed will turns out to be good and strong wheat. So he does not have to go through the painful process of throwing the bad weeds into the fire. Thanks be to God for that!