17 July, Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Spirit of Jesus helps us in our weakness; and God has sown the good seed in our hearts. We have all that we need to make our lives successful, with the help of the divine mercy. The power to pray, to be in conversation with our God, is given to every one of us. In the end, we must entrust everything to Providence, that all will turn out for the best.
Wis 12:13,16-19. Because God is all-powerful he governs the world with lenience and patience, allowing us time to repent of our sins.
Rom 8:26-27. All of us whether young of old, can at times find it hard to pray. God knows all this. He understands our ill-expressed wishes better than we do ourselves.
Mt 13:24-43. God, in his wisdom, allows both good and bad people to exist side by side in the Church, but will judge them as they deserve at the end of time.
– for our Pope, that guided by faith and love he may provide spiritual leadership for the church and the world
– that we may be tolerant, and resist the temptation to interfere without invitation in other peoples’ lives.
– that we may each be convinced that, with the help of the divine mercy, we have all we need to make our lives successful.
– for those minorities in the world, those ostracised in our society, who are deprived of their civil and human rights.
Our mysterious Selves (John Walsh)
Being a Mustard-Seed (Jack McArdle)In the eighth psalm of the Old Testament, the writer poses the question to God, “What are human beings that you care for them, or mortals that you keep them in mind?” In so doing, we might say that he was trying to come to a greater understanding of both the motives of God and the nature of humanity. For by the fact that we have come about through the creative action of God, that God has made us in his own image as scripture tells us, it follows that as God for us remains forever the great unknowable, so there must be an element of mystery also about each one of us.
One of the things in us which remains inexplicable is the urge which arises at times, in all of us, to cast off, as it were, the stamp of the divine we bear, to wipe out that imprint of God on our inner being, to turn a deaf ear to the voice of God which throughout our lives continues to address us through our conscience. There were two requests which, all through his life, St Augustine kept repeating in his prayers, “That I may know God, and that I may know myself.” Knowledge of God is purely a gift of the Holy Spirit given out of generosity.
In trying to acquire self-knowledge, however, there are two extremes to be avoided. There are souls – admittedly few in number – who have almost a pathological fear of admitting to any imperfection in their lives. They go to confession and say, “I have committed no sin,” and when the priest suggests that there may perhaps be something in their past lives for which they can be sorry, they remain adamant in their refusal to admit to any such. One might well ask the question, how then can there be contrition, which is a necessary part of the sacrament, or indeed what purpose does the sacrament of reconciliation serve for such people? For if somebody were to go through life without ever sinning, then that person would have no need for redemption or for a redeeming Christ.
By way of direct contrast there are those who might be described as tortured souls, by whom the most trivial actions are deemed to be evil and sinful. They are haunted by the spectre of damnation, and God, who is love, becomes for them a kind of despot scrutinising all their actions, ready to exact retribution for their least fault. They forget that one of the divine attributes, as today’s reading from the Book of Wisdom points out, is forbearance, that while the common tendency of humans is to lapse, to deviate from the path of true virtue, the mark of the truly strong, the divine, is to forgive. “Disposing of such strength,” the first reading today states, “you are mild in judgment, you govern us with great lenience, you have given your children the hope that, after sin, you will grant repentance.” While in all truth and humility, we must confess that none of us is perfect, to regard ourselves as beyond redemption is to belittle the redemptive power of the life and death of Jesus Christ, our Saviour. Each o us has been given his or her own special talents and virtues, but each one falls short, in varying degree, of the ideal which God proposes to us individually in our inmost being. We all have good in us, but we also have evil. As it was said once, “There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly becomes any of us to speak badly about the rest of us.” The gospel reading adds further emphasis to this when it likens the kingdom of heaven, or the Church, to a mixture of wheat and darnel, or weeds. At an early stage the darnel is much like wheat, and so the landowner does not try to separate the two, but waits until harvest time. Likewise, God does not immediately separate the bad from the good, but gives them every chance, here and now, to change and amend their ways. It is when we are united with Christ, when the Holy Spirit pleads for us before God, that we become pleasing to God.
We should find great consolation, then, when we recall the mercy, the graciousness of God, who, as St Paul points out, loved us while we were still sinners, and loved us to the point of dying for us. “No one can have greater love than this,” Christ himself said, “to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). The repentant thief, having been forgiven on his cross on Calvary, did not have time thereafter to perform any good deeds, or to put the commandments into practice. He threw himself on the mercy of God, and his sins became as if they had never existed. It is by doing this that we too can draw near to our God.
Giving Us Time (Joseph Cassidy)
I want to tell you something now that you will find a bit horrific, so if you’re inclined to be squeamish I want to warn you not to be shocked. The sin of blasphemy is the sin of speaking mockingly or contemptuously about God. Now, in seventeenth-century England, if you committed that sin, do you know what they’d do with you? For the first offense they’d bore a hole in your tongue. For a second offense they’d burn the letter B into your forehead. And for a third offense they’d sentence you to death, without benefit of priest or parson, so that hopefully you’d go to hell, which you’d richly deserve. There you are now, ladies! And you thought it would be nice to live in those days with your crinoline dress, your lavender water and your coach and four. It was savage! That was the Christian community punishing the sinner, pouring paraquat on the weeds, dividing people, separating the bad from the good.
Now there were people in Our Lord’s time who wanted him to separate the bad from the good as well. Among them were the “moral la-di-das” – the Pharisees whose name means “the separated ones.” Even John the Baptist expected Jesus to separate the cream from the skim, to have only holy people around him. John foretold that Our Lord would separate the chaff from the wheat. He said in Matthew 3:12: “He will gather his wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.”
That’s precisely what Our Lord didn’t do. He had all sorts of people around him, a rainbow coalition of people – the learned, the ignorant, the good-living, the badliving, tax-collectors, prostitutes, the lot. What in God’s name is he doing, they said. Why doesn’t he get down to business? Why doesn’t he get rid of the scruff?
Now the parable we heard today is Our Lord’s answer to that. Will we pull out the weeds? they asked him. Will we pull out the wicked people and bore holes in their tongues? No, you won’t, he said. Let both grow until the harvest and then, and only then, if some persist in their sin, will separation come. What I want you to do is be patient. What I want myself is to give everybody a chance. A chance to change, to give up sin, to love me. What I want above all is to give people time, the time they can use to repent.
My dear friend – and I say friend deliberately because I’m talking to each one of you as an individual – that parable in today’s Gospel is meant for you personally and it’s meant for me. Our Lord is imploring us to change and he’s giving us the time to do so. There isn’t one person in this congregation, myself included, who doesn’t need to change in some respects. If our efforts are to bring the success that we want, there are a few things that we need to do!
The first thing is to so motivate ourselves that accomplishing change becomes a matter of supreme importance. A vague velleity or desire has to give way to a settled determination. Unless we keep our objective before our minds as a matter of urgency, the only thing that will change will be the timing of our new resolution. We’ll move from one resolution to the next with diminishing conviction and increasing despondency. So motivation is of the utmost importance. We have to keep our objective constantly before our minds.
The second thing is to be on our guard! We are all as strong as our weakest moment. There are times when our resistance to infection is low; there are times when our resistance to temptation is low as well. We can undo the effort of months or years in an unguarded moment. It’s a question of avoiding the circumstances in which we are likely or certain to fail. If a habit or a pattern is to be broken, then it’s foolish, even fatal, to take unacceptable risks. Grace has no space in tight corners.
Thirdly, it’s not enough to be motivated or on our guard. We need to be on our knees as well. Unless we recognise our dependence on God, we’ll get nowhere. Along with that, we need the support and guidance of a counsellor or confessor. We need to use the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly as an instrument of growth. “Confession % as we call it, is not dry-cleaning or paying the bill or wiping the slate dean. It’s part of the ongoing process of conversion and growth.
Whatever happens, let’s never be discouraged; let’s never lose heart. Spirituality isn’t perfection but it is effort. Triers are highly regarded in heaven. As long as we’re really trying, God’s grace is at work within us. In spiritual terms, we’ll succeed. His grace is sufficient for us. His power is at its best in weakness. We must never expect fairy-tale change. Cinderellas don’t become princesses in our world. One thing we all learn is that in the moral life there are no “truces” or “cease-fires.” Battles go on to the end!
So let’s pause now and make a firm resolution. All of us need to change. If you are wondering about the areas in your own life, just listen to the beat of your conscience. Let’s make our resolution now And we’ll finish together with a prayer:
Not “Neo-Pagans” (Kevin Condon)
(1) A sermon on modern atheism (first reading.) “There is no God other than you,” says the Wise Man. He is speaking at a time when all men at least believed in divinities, if not in God. Secularism discourages belief in any God. To speak of modern men as “neo-pagans” is to use a misnomer, as Chesterton pointed out long ago. Today the god is Progress, big business, exploitation of world resources, “scientific” reasoning. The result is a false euphoria, an alienation worse than anything man has known in the past. In a certain sense the “death of God” theology is 1,942 years out of date (Francois Mauriac.) Christ died to show the way to life, not by mastery of the earth but by communion with it and with the human condition. “You show your strength when your sovereign power is questioned, and you expose the insolence of those who have knowledge” (in the Greek the meaning of the final words is obscure.)
(2) Possibly a sermon on true “Pentecostalism” (Second reading.) Not the enthusiasm of exotic prayer forms but that of God’s children crying, “Abba, Father.” Emphasis on the body and its members: “In one Spirit we were all baptised into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were given to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13.)
(3) The principle of tolerance. How Christians should behave towards the wayward in their midst. Liberalism? Bigotry? Censorship? Faith and charity?
Weeding Out (Liam Swords)
As any gardener knows, weeding can be the greatest threat of all to the life of the young seedling. At first, the problem is one of identification. The weeds must be left until the seedling can be clearly recognised. Even then, removing the weeds may pose an even greater threat. It might sever the seedling’s root system. Often the weed brings the seedling away with it.
In the case of human beings it is an even more hazardous operation. “Weeding-out” has no history of success which doesn’t seem to curb people’s passion for it. Fifty years after Hitler’s final solution, the horrendous weeding out of six million Jews in concentration camps, the Bosnian Serbs are attempting the brutal policy of “ethnic cleansing.” Race, religion, colour, sex, politics are still considered ready-reckoners for identifying society’s weeds. Increasing power over nature provides new and sinister instruments for weeding out. The unborn child, the seed of life is threatened with abortion. At the other end of life, euthanasia is proposed as the final solution for the new Jews, the old, the maimed, the incurables and the burdensome. Right through life, the weeding-out continues remorselessly. The handicapped axe institutionalised, the delinquent are penalised, the deviant are ostracised and the poor are patronised.
Weeding out is not confined to faceless bureaucracy. We all try our hand at it. We like-to think our judicious weeding-out prevented many great personal calamities. We are sharp at spotting the undesirables, the troublemakers, the misfits. We may admit reluctantly to lapses in our watchfulness but never to mistakes.
One shudders to think of the people who might have been weeded Out if men had got their way and God himself had not chosen to intervene. Probably most of the saints in the calendar. Peter, after his triple denial in the crucifixion crisis should have been weeded out for failing the leadership test. Strange isn’t it, that Christ never weeded out Judas? The church did not always show her master’s tolerance. Galileo could testify to that. The spirit of the Inquisition lives on. Excommunications and anathemas may be out of fashion but old habits die hard.
The lesson of the parable of the weeds is so uncompromisingly simple and so widely ignored. To the question “Do you want us to go and weed it out?” the answer is a categorical “No.” And the reason is self-evident. Only God has eyes sufficiently discerning and fingers sufficiently gentle for this job. Weeding out is God’s prerogative. Life would be so much better for everybody, if only we would leave it to him.
Being a Mustard-Seed (Jack McArdle)
Today’s gospel is rich in its teaching. Jesus uses images like fields, wheat, mustard seed, and yeast, to illustrate to his listeners what the kingdom of God is like. In today’s gospel, we see Jesus the teacher at his best.
A important issue in today’s world is that of health, pollution, global warming, etc. Some people are concerned, while many are indifferent. We feel we are losing something, and there is no simple solution as a recovery. An individual can feel powerless, and feel the problem is too much for any one person to tackle. The fact is, however, that the solution must begin with some individual. “If each before his own door swept, the whole village would be clean.” “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” While no one of us can remove the weeds, each can be like the yeast, which effects where it is mixed, or we can begin some growth that can lead to greater things. We may begin as a tiny mustard seed, but we have all known wonderful people who were giants. Belonging to the kingdom of God imposes responsibilities on all of us.
What God creates is good, like the wheat sown in the field. Unfortunately an enemy (the word Satan means “enemy’) has sown the weeds of sin, sickness and death in our humanity. These are not part of God’s creation. The reality is that it is only the Creator who can recreate. Jesus came to remove the weeds of sin, sickness and death. We must know our place here, because only God can do a God-thing. We say “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Lord, you are the source of our healing. Dying, you destroyed our death.” Jesus came to remove the weeds, because any attempt by us to do so would only make matters worse.
Jesus is a brilliant storyteller. His stories are simple, but the message is profound. Using the effect of yeast, when placed in the dough for baking, is a simple way of describing the profound change that the Christian can have on hisher surroundings.
As a Christian, you are the message, because Christianity is about attracting rather than promoting. “You shall be my witnesses.” We cannot underestimate the effect of Christian living in the world. For example, missionaries going to India today would be more concerned about the witness of their Christian living than about “converting” anyone to Christianity. I still have to bear witness, even if there’s no chance that anyone would want to become Christian. Jesus gave the witness of his life, and he left the rest to us. Not everyone who listened to him actually followed him.
“Learn to live and to walk in the Spirit;” this is a learning process. It is slow, gradual, and on going. I have seen mustard seeds, and they were so tiny that I could not pick them up with my fingers, but had to use a strip of cellotape to hold them on the fly-cover of my Bible. I also have seen mustard trees in the Garden of Gethsemane, and I was amazed at the size of them.
This is surely a powerful image Jesus uses, when speaking to people who would have been familiar with the items in question. It certainly is a slow growth, but it also is a sure growth. We are told that our faith can grow like that, if we exercise it. I learned to walk by walking, and to talk by talking. I learn to trust by trusting, and my faith grows the more I exercise it. In fact, like the mustard tree, in whose branches the birds of the air find shelter, other people can find consolation and encouragement through my faith. When the people lowered the man through the roof, in the gospel story, it is possible that he was unconscious and incapable of having faith. However, Jesus marvelled at their faith, and he healed the man.
Response: Each of us has to face up to the reality of the presence of weeds among the wheat in our lives. Each of us has to accept the reality of sin, sickness, and death. In a way, I suppose, I could say that we are all cracked! The Spirit, however, enters our hearts through the cracks of our brokenness. The presence of Jesus in my heart must make a fundamental difference. I throw open the canvas of my life, right out to the edges, and I allow him see the sin, the sickness, and the fact that I have to face up to the certainty of death. I hear him say “your sins are forgiven.., arise and walk I have overcome death.”
My presence within the community has got to make a difference. Every brick in a wall is important, whether it is at the base, or on the top row. “Bloom where you’re planted;” it is constantly evident in a parish, for example, that there are some people who contribute enormously to the vibrancy of parish life. They are the yeast, they are the salt. Without them the community would be greatly impoverished. Not everyone listens, therefore, not everyone responds. “Many are called, but few are chosen Many are called, but few choose to respond. A community is like a mirror taken off a wall, dropped on the ground, and shattered. Each person in the community is entrusted with a piece of that mirror. Each person represents some aspect of God’s reflection. It is only when each is ready and willing to make that piece available, that the community can reflect the full face of God.
It is an extraordinary thing that the only sure thing in our lives is that we shall all one day die, and yet there is a tendency to keep that well at the back of our mind. Many people are not sure how to approach the whole issue. Should we face up to it now, or keep our heads below the parapet, and wait till it approaches us? Jesus speaks about the general “round-up” at the end of time. There are a few places in which he speaks of what we call the General Judgement. There will come a time when we cannot hide anymore. No more denial, no more pretending, no more rationalising. We will stand naked before God, with the canvas of our lives wide open before him. He will separate the sheep from the goats. The sheep follow the shepherd, while the goats have to be driven by the goatherd. God doesn’t send me anywhere when I die. Rather does he eternalise the direction in which I choose to travel now? The decision is mine, because I have free will. One thing is certain: I can never say that I didn’t know!
Because of the whole evolution in today’s world, with the growth of materialism, etc., in a post-Christian era, I am either a mystic or art unbeliever. A mystic is someone who reflects on life, and ponders the tensions, while facing up to them. We live in a world of “quick-fix.” Soon we will not repair cars, machinery, etc., but just replace the part that is causing problems, and everything will be up and running in record time. We replace a pair of shoes rather than go to the cobbler. We cannot do that with the weeds of original sin in our lives. The mystic faces up to reality, is not in denial, and is open to the work of re-creation, which only the Creator can do. Can you get your head around the concept of what it means to be a mystic? I could easily accept the teachings of Christianity, and not believe in God at all. I can live with the ideology of Christianity, while not having any great faith in redemption, salvation, and transformation. What are my thoughts on that?
Look around you, and see if the world where you live is any better because you are part of it. The best place to begin is my own heart, and then in my own home. When I was a kid we were praying “for the conversion of Russia.” That was safe, because it was far enough away! It really made no demands on me. When I put myself on the line, however, against the background of today’s gospel, there is no escape. If I read this gospel slowly twice, once for the head, and again for the heart, and I take it as being directed personally to me, what do you think my reaction should be? Do I really need any sermons on it? I don’t think so. The easiest way to avoid doing something is to talk about it long enough! Jesus, however, calls for decisions, not discussions.
“We shall all one day die” is fine, but “I shall one day die” can be uncomfortable. It is much easier to keep it in the first person plural. Without wishing to be morbid, what do you think God might see if you stood before him now, in death, and Out of the body? It has been suggested that there could be a meeting at the moment of death between the person that I am, and the person that God created me to be. I hasten to add that God loves me exactly as I am, but the complete picture is that he loves me more than that, or he would just leave me the way I am! Sometime, when you get a chance, let your imagination bring you before God as in death. Reflect on your thoughts, and see if you get any inspiration, or can glean any insights. This is part of being a mystic, and it can deepen my consciousness as a believer.
A young lad was passing a sculptor’s yard somewhere in Italy. He was on his way to school. He noticed a huge block of marble in the middle of the yard. For the following few months, as he passed by, the front doors were closed, but he could hear the sculptor chipping away. After several months, he passed by, and saw that the front doors were open. He stood transfixed in amazement. Where the block of marble had been, stood a giant sculptured tiger. It was so life-like, with powerful muscles, and a real sense of aggressive movements. He stood looking at it for a while, and then he approached the sculptor. He tugged his coat, looked up into his face with awe, as he whispered “Excuse me, sir, but how did you know there was a tiger in there?’
Jesus looks at each of us, and he sees the possibilities. He cannot begin, however, without our openness and goodwill.
First Reading: Wisdom 12:13ff
For who will say, “What have you done?” or will resist your judgment?
Who will accuse you for the destruction of nations that you made?
Or who will come before you to plead as an advocate for the unrighteous?
For neither is there any god besides you, whose care is for all people, to whom you should prove that you have not judged unjustly; nor can any king or monarch confront you about those whom you have punished.
You are righteous and you rule all things righteously, deeming it alien to your power to condemn anyone who does not deserve to be punished.
For your strength is the source of righteousness, and your sovereignty over all causes you to spare all.
For you show your strength when people doubt the completeness of your power, and you rebuke any insolence among those who know it.
Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us; for you have power to act whenever you choose.
Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind, and you have filled your children with good hope, because you give repentance for sins.
Second Reading: Romans 8:26-27
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Gospel: Matthew 13:24-43
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.” Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “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 ar 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. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom 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. Let anyone with ears listen!