17 July, 2011

Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity (A) 2011

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Today’s gospel is the continuation of last week’s parable of the sower.
Matthew’s gospel is believed to have been fist addressed to one of the earliest Christian community which was largely composed by Jewish people. In today’s passage we see one of the reasons why many New Testament scholars hold this belief. The parable of the wheat and the weeds aims to explain why some Jews joyfully accepted the message of the Gospel, whilst some others individuals put obstacles in the livelihood of the Christian community and tried to spoil its work.
This parable also provides teachings for the whole Church on how to conduct her life in the face of difficulties coming from within her; that is, persevering in doing good, whilst being patient towards the obstacles presented by those who Matthew calls the children of the evil one.

And this is what I want to focus on today. When Jesus told this parable he was warning His followers of the danger of judging, alienating or cutting off one another when difficulties arose among them.
'...in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let them both grow together until harvest...'

The most straightforward interpretation of this saying depicts the servants as careless workers which may overlook some stalks of wheat and pull them up along with bunches of weeds. This is fine. However, I believe that a more accurate interpretation makes two important points: one Christological, about Jesus’ nature and the other Ecclesiological, about the nature of the Church.

The latter of these points is found in the difference between the weeds and the wheat. Matthew uses the Greek word zizanion for the weeds. This is a plant that closely resembles wheat in almost everything except in the colour of the grains which are black. More than a weed, zizanion is like “a bad wheat” which jeopardises the growth of the good wheat and it produces useless crops. Therefore, at first, there seems to be a little difference between committed Christians and those who actually oppose the Gospel producing no fruit for the kingdom of heaven.
So why does the householder not want his servants to get rid of the weeds when they could cause so much trouble? To put it plainly, because we are not capable of doing so without making a great, big mess of it. The wheat and the zizanion are so similar that we would end up uprooting both the good and the bad wheat, not out of carelessness, but because of mistaken judgment. In a very English expression, we could end up throwing out the baby with the bath water. We can see the results of this misguided zeal all around us.
Everytime single individuals have tried to reform the Church out of their own beliefs disaster struck. Thus, we have ended up with countless Reformation martyrs on both side of the divide and with the bloodthirsty iconoclasm of the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell which abolished Christmas, destroyed sacred images and killed the Sovereign.
'...in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest...'

The Christological point made by Matthew is the reverse side of this coin. There is a person who can judge between the good and the bad grains and this person is Our Lord Jesus. He is the householder who will instruct His angles at the end of time to gather the good wheat from the zizanion. He is the one to whom belong judgment and power.
As a member of the clergy I could put myself in the category of the householder’ servants depicted n this parable; eager to see the the good grain growing. However, I believe the role of the clergy is to tend to the growth of the whole harvest with love. We cannot judge properly between good wheat and bad, it is not our duty and – as the gospel tells us – we would not be able to do so. We can only strive for the good of the whole harvest without pretending that everything is alright.
We could more easily consider both clergy and lay people as the good wheat. We are all supposed to be children of light, the good wheat that Our Lord Jesus has planted through Baptism. We may be all surrounded by pseudo-Christians; we may live in a nation that claims to be Christian, but fails miserably to act as such. But as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to bear with the present obstacles, the present situations without judging one another or acting holier-than-thou. We are supposed to examine our own communal and personal lives, endeavouring to live in hope and to grow in holiness through the continuous practice of the virtues.
In the face of daily strife or even of persecutions we are called to produce a good harvest and to refrain ourselves from judging or alienating one another, leaving judgment to the one who knows better than ourselves. We are not to pretend that everything is alright, but we are supposed to live in hope for the fullness of God’s kingdom to be revealed.

In other words, we are called to “Keep calm, and carry on!” To be the good wheat is truly and essentially our Christian vocation, the call to which we responded in Baptism.

And so I want to finish with some words from a saintly Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang who affirmed that

"It is by the depth of inward life rather than by the width of outward energy that the Church and its members really and lastingly influence the world"

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