23Jul July 23. 16th Sunday in O. T.

Saint Bridget of Sweden, religious

1st Reading: Wisdom 12:13, 16-19

Because God is all-powerful he governs the world with leniency

For who will say, “What have you done?” or who 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.

2nd Reading: Romans 8:26-27

God understands our ill-expressed wishes better than we do ourselves

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

God will judge all justly at the end of time

Jesus 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. 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 are 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!”


Giving Us Time to Grow

There were people in Our Lord’s time who wanted him to separate the bad from the good as well. Among them were people who claimed the moral high ground, 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 (Mt 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 bad-living, 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 weed them out?

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 identifying which is which. 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 risky business. “Weeding-out” has no history of success which doesn’t seem to curb people’s passion for it. So many decades after Hitler’s final solution, the horrendous weeding out of six million Jews in concentration camps, the brutal policy of “ethnic cleansing” still continues in various places of conflict, where race, religion or politics are still considered ready-reckoners for identifying “weeds” to be rooted out. Increasing power over nature provides new and sinister instruments for weeding out. The unborn child, on the very the cusp of life, is threatened with casual abortion. At the other end of life, euthanasia is proposed as the final solution for the old, when they are deemed incurable or just burdensome. Right through life, various kinds of weeding-out continue remorselessly. The vulnerable are institutionalised, delinquents are penalised, deviants are ostracised and the poor are patronised.

The process of weeding people out is not confined to bureaucrats. We’re all tempted to try our hand at it. We are quick to sideline the undesirables, the troublemakers, the misfits. Which of us might not have been weeded out if God had not shown us mercy. Even saint Peter, after denying any connection to Jesus, should have been weeded out for failing the leadership test. But the church has not always shown the same tolerance as Jesus. Galileo and others could testify to that. The spirit of the Inquisition lives on. While excommunications may be out of fashion the old habits die hard.

The parable of the weeds is starkly simple and yet widely ignored. To the question “Do you want us to go and weed it out?” the answer of Jesus 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.

The Importance Of Little Things

{José Antonio Pagola}

Through the centuries, Christianity has been much damaged because of triumphalism, the thirst for power, and the eagerness to impose oneself on our enemies. There are still Christians who yearn for a powerful Church that fills church buildings, conquers the streets and imposes our faith on the whole of society.

We need to go back to two small parables where Jesus makes clear that his followers’ task isn’t to construct a powerful religion, but rather to put themselves at the service of the Father’s humanizing project (God’s Reign), sowing small «seeds» of the Gospel, and mixing themselves into society as a bit of «leaven» in human life.

The first speaks of a mustard seed that is sown in a garden. What’s special about this mustard? That it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it grows, it becomes a bush bigger than the other vegetables. The Father’s project has some very humble beginnings, but its transforming force can’t be imagined even now.

Jesus’ activity in Galilee of sowing deeds of goodness and justice isn’t anything grandiose and spectacular: neither in Rome nor in the Jerusalem Temple are they aware of what’s happening. The work that his followers are doing today is insignificant: the power centers ignore it. Even we Christians can think that it’s useless to work for a better world. Human beings keep on committing the same horrors over and over again, seemingly forever, and we are incapable of catching on to the slow growing of God’s Reign.

The second parable speaks of a woman who mixes a little leaven into a large mass of flour. Without anyone knowing how, the leaven goes about working silently until the whole mass is fermented.

That’s what happens with God’s humanizing project. Once it is introduced into the world, it goes about quietly transforming human history. God doesn’t act by imposing Self from outside. God humanizes the world by attracting the consciences of God’s children to a more worthy life, one that is more just and fraternal.

We need to trust in Jesus. God’s Reign is always something humble and small in its beginnings, but God is still working among us, promoting solidarity, the desire for truth and for justice, the yearning for a happier world. We need to collaborate with God by following Jesus.

A less powerful Church, one that is more lacking in privileges, poorer and closer to the poor, will always be a Church that is freer to sow seeds of the Gospel, more humble in its living in the midst of the people as the leaven of a more worthy and more fraternal life.

Saint Bridget of Sweden

Bridget (1303-1373) was a woman of great compassion for the poor. Born as Birgitta Birgersdotter, in Uppland, Sweden, she lived as a wife and mother, then later as a widow, then a nun and a mystic. She went on pilgrimage to Rome in the Jubilee Year of 1350, to seek papal approval for the new Order she had founded, and her Rule was confirmed in 1370. She died in Rome in 1373.