17 July 2014

'Let both of them grow together until the harvest . . .' Sunday Reflections, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

The Sower, November 1888, Arles; Vincent van Gogh

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel Matthew 13:24-43 (or 13:24-30)  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

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!]

Burning Weeds, July 1883, Vincent van Gogh

In 1997 while on a visit to Toronto I read in a newspaper about a woman from the Philippines  who had been found guilty of embezzling about Can$250,000 over a period of time from the company for which she worked. The judge had no alternative but to send her to prison. However he was a very compassionate man. 

The judge was aware that the woman was no Al Capone. She had spent the money on surgery for her father in the Philippines, on improving her family's house there and on other family needs.

She was also pregnant.

The judge delayed the woman's imprisonment until six months after the birth of her child. She was also to serve her time in a women's prison near where she lived so that her family and friends could visit her easily.

The First Reading gives context to the parable of the good seed and the weeds: 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 (Wisdom 12:19)

The judge in this case was both righteous and kind. As one implementing justice on behalf of the state he had to punish the person before him because she had committed a serious crime. But he also filled her with good hope and, I've no doubt, gave her an opportunity to repent of her sins.

The parable shows once again God's mercy, God's desire to be merciful. He doesn't want to destroy what is good. He wants what is good to grow. He wants to cultivate the virtues in our lives by nourishing them through his grace and with our cooperation. 

But the parable also acknowledges the reality of evil. Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, the householder instructs his workers. We can choose to be 'weeds', to spurn God's mercy. The consequences are the result of our choice, not of God's. The, the author of the Book of Wisdom says to God, you give repentance for sins. God himself offers the grace of sorrow for our sins, the grace to ask God for forgiveness, won for us by Jesus on the Cross. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

The greatest expression of the God's mercy, given as a gift to the Church, is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which we often call confession or penance. Last March Pope Francis said this to confessors (emphasis added): First of all, the protagonist of the ministry of reconciliation is the Holy Spirit. The forgiveness that the Sacrament confers is the new life sent by the Risen Lord by means of His Spirit: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23). Therefore, you are called to always be “men of the Holy Spirit,” witnesses and heralds, joyful and strong, of the resurrection of the Lord. This testimony is read on the face, is heard in the voice of the priest who administers with faith and with “unction” the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He welcomes penitents not with the attitude of a judge, not even with that of a simple man, but with the charity of God, with the love of a father who sees the son returning and goes to meet him, [with the love] of the shepherd who has found the lost sheep. The heart of the priest is a heart that knows how to be moved, not by sentimentality or mere emotion, but to the “tender mercy” [viscere di misericordia] of the Lord! If it is true that tradition points out the dual role of doctor and judge for confessors, we must never forget that as a doctor he is called to heal and as a judge, to absolve.

The judge in Canada, though he had to be primarily a judge, also showed the charity of God, as many judges do. He showed compassion, which was expressed not only in the respect he showed the woman from the Philippines, but also in the respect he showed to her unborn child.

And Pope Francis shows us the way to avail of God's mercy so that when the reapers come there will be no 'weeds' to burn.

Lenten Penitential Service, St Peter's Basilica, Rome, 28 March 2014

The music being sung at that moment during the service was Miserere by Gregorio Allegri, a setting of the Latin translation of Psalm 51 (50). The refrain is the opening line of the psalm: Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam (Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love).

Miserere, by Gregorio Allegri
Sung by the Tallis Scholars

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