by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the men’s branch of the Idente Missionaries.
New York, July 19, 2020. | XVI Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Book of Wisdom 12: 13.16-19; Letter to the Romans 8: 26-27; Saint Matthew 13: 24-43.
These days I was reflecting on the continuous and inevitable mix of joyful and painful events in the life of each one of us and of our families and communities.
But, above all, if I am sincere, in my own spiritual life. Like the agricultural workers (“slaves”) in the Parable of the Wheat and the Darnel (or Tares, or Weed), we are sincerely interested in the Word of Jesus and like them we are impatient for the evil we do and the evil our fellow men do. How can good and evil be so closely intertwined in us? These thoughts reminded me of the following anecdote:
One fine evening a man walked into a fast-food chicken place and bought two rations of chicken. He took his chicken to the park for a romantic picnic under the moonlight with his girlfriend.
Upon reaching into the box, however, he received a surprise. Instead of chicken he discovered what was apparently the restaurant’s night deposit: ten thousand dollars. Being basically honest -and really hungry besides- the young man brought the box back to the store and asked for his chicken in exchange for the money. The manager, in awe of the young man’s honesty, asked for his name and told him he wanted to call the newspaper and the local news station to do a story on him. He would become a local hero, an example of honesty and morality that would inspire others! The hungry man ignored the proposal. My date’s waiting. I just want my chicken. The manager’s renewed amazement over the young man’s humility almost overwhelmed him. At this the honest man became angry with the manager and demanded his chicken. I don’t get it, the manager responded. You are an honest man in a dishonest world! This is a perfect opportunity to show the world that there are honest people still willing to take a stand for what is right. Please, give me your name and also the woman’s name.
That’s the problem, said the young man. My wife is at home. The woman in the car is my girlfriend. Now let me have my chicken so I can get out of here.
The question of the apostles during the storm in the boat, of the persecuted Christians at the time the Gospel of Matthew was written and also our question is: How is it that Christ does not do something to prevent the evils in the Church, in our communities and in each one of us? Why does God not accelerate the arrival of his Kingdom?
The existence of weeds in others and in ourselves hurts and bothers us. We can hardly accept what the Old Testament already says: There is no righteous man on earth who always does good and never sins (Ecl 7:20). We are like the man who bought his box of chicken.
In the days of St. Matthew, fifty years had passed since the death and resurrection of Jesus. But Christian communities realized that evil was present and continued to increase and flourish. Why is the kingdom of heaven, inaugurated by Jesus, never had a total and immediate success? We even read in the Second Epistle of St. Peter: Since our fathers in faith died, everything still goes on, as it was from the beginning of the world (2 Pt 3:4).
The Holy Spirit not only makes me feel hurt and sorry for my faults, but leads me to a real abhorrence of myself, even when I do not have any sin or unfaithfulness in the foreground of my memory. This is an experience that the saints have had, although not everyone has taken the trouble to describe it in detail. It is a clear vision of my weakness as a human being, understanding that there are seeds of tares in me that could grow strong at any moment. At other times, our reaction is a form of abhorrence of God, because it seems to us that He does not respond to our expectations, requires us to pass tests whose meaning we do not understand, or seems to want to intervene in all aspects of our life… which is very true.
Perhaps it is appropriate to make a “botanical” observation here. Darnel occupies a grey area in human agricultural history. It is definitely not good for us. When people eat its seeds, they get dizzy, off-balance and nauseous, and its official name, Lolium temulentum, comes from a Latin word for “drunk.” One of the plant’s effects is messing with a person’s vision and speech. It is not accident that Jesus used the imagery of wheat and darnel to highlight Satan’s malicious intention: to cause problems and confusion.
There comes a time when it is impossible for us to distinguish good from evil, impossible to stop justifying what goes directly and openly against the divine will…and at the same time we are capable of doing some good deeds. Of course, this happens when we do not have recourse to true prayer, the Spirit of the Gospel and spiritual direction.
To try to destroy the darnel would mean destroying much of the wheat, and separating one from the other would be beyond the servants’ abilities. Only when the wheat has matured can the tares be detected. Then the tares are gathered together in bundles in the field and destroyed by fire.
In this way, Jesus is telling us to be patient and bear the cross of our permanent weakness, while at the same time being honest and not allowing ourselves to be carried away by it. The same thing he said to St. Paul when he asked to be freed from his thorn in the flesh: My grace is enough for you: for power is at full stretch in weakness (2Cor 12: 9).
Sometimes it’s easy to see what’s wrong — our actions clearly look like thorns. At other times, it is not so easy. What we do feels good, looks good, and even tastes good… at the time. But does it bring sickness or health in the long run?
Today’s First Reading reminds us that God gave his children good ground for hope that He would permit repentance for their sins. God is patient and we need to be patient as well. It’s hard to tell wheat from tares, even when you think you know which weed you want to pull out. It might be best to just keep working hard in God’s ground of hope, and wait for the Holy Spirit to handle the harvest.
This explains why, in the Second Reading, Paul acknowledges that we do not know how to pray; we have no idea what to ask from God and our prayers are often just attempts to make him adhere to our plans.
The Holy Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness and suggests to us the words that we must address to the Father. We just need to open the mind and the heart to his light and let oneself be ready to accept His will in every moment of life. This is continuous prayer. The Holy Spirit gives us the light and the strength to follow God’s will.
He makes us partakers of the thoughts of God, which are incomprehensible for the wisdom of this world, so Paul calls them inexpressible groanings.
Therefore, if our prayer comes from the Spirit. it is always answered because it is in conformity with the divine desires. It is not trying to bend his will to ours, but gets our conversion to Him.
God is trying to get our attention in all of our hardship. He is in control of all circumstances that surround the believer. As shown in the story of Job, the devil can do nothing in the life of the believer without express permission on the part of God. But why would God give him that permission? Because the devil’s attacks will show what we are made of. It will separate the real from the false, the wheat from the tares. When attacked, a real believer will turn to God.
Among other spiritual and emotional illnesses, the Holy Spirit tries to heal our pride and our blind narcissism. We all have traits of true narcissism. And you see a narcissist is totally carnal, totally selfish and self-focused. They are not willing to totally come under God’s will. We are not taking about keeping the Commandments. We are not necessarily talking about hard-working. The problem is that they will not humble themselves, humble the self before God, get down on their knees and humble themselves and say: Father, whatever you want, that’s what I will do. They are also not willing to humble themselves in front of their neighbor and say simply, without victimization: Let’s do it your way. We will do it according to your preferences.
They are not willing to do that. And yet… they can spend their whole existence in religious life, be superiors, be admired for their untiring activity, or their intelligence applied to evangelization, … Evil, in fact, often disguises itself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14).
On the other hand, the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares teaches us to deal with what is evil and good in our neighbors.
As disciples of Christ, we must resist the temptation to see only the darkness around us by remembering that Christ is the Light of the World. We intentionally reject the impulse to give up hope and live in fear by calling to mind one of the most frequent commands of the Gospel: Be not afraid.
When it is our turn to accompany souls, we are in danger of wanting to eliminate bad tendencies as quickly as possible. There is nothing wrong in this, but we often forget the ecstatic character of our soul, the wheat that is sown in a person’s soul and – if it is allowed to grow vigorously – will not let the tares progress.
Today’s Gospel warns us against intolerance. We must remain patient with those who do not agree with us or who really are our enemies. Time, love and compassion are needed for people to change and be converted. Some of us cannot wait. We can do harm, especially with our comments at the wrong time and in the wrong tone, which other people perceive as a lack of patience, not as diligence or courage.
It is not the same thing to say to a child, Don’t be lazy, as it is to ask for his help in gathering the leaves from the garden. Jesus is not content to correct Peter’s impetuosity, but showed him how to channel it into a unique mission tailored to him. This is the education of ecstasy, which Jesus always practiced and which the Holy Spirit carries out in us.
Jesus is exhorting us to be patient in dealing with the scandal of sins in the Christian community. God’s judgment is not made hastily. Rather God sees the entire life of ours rather than just the individual actions we do, good and bad. So in the face of scandals, we should not be surprised as some of us when we hear of brothers and sisters failing in their conduct and moral life. Sure, we should be saddened by the scandals we hear but we should not be surprised since the Church is a community of pilgrims journeying towards perfection. Moreover, in the face of evil and suffering, we can actually become perfected in truth and holiness. The sins of others can purify us in love and compassion.
The other two parables, of the mustard seed and the yeast, are complementary to the parable of the tares. Just as it is very difficult for us to understand and bear the presence of evil, we cannot fathom or imagine what are the fruits of the actions we take for the kingdom of heaven. Even if they are insignificant. What is important is not only the disproportion between the seed and the bush that will be born, but the surprise, what Providence will accomplish with our small, modest and incomplete participation. Likewise, bad habits will one day become big just as good habits will also grow. A single thought, a bad action will soon become a habit and then it becomes part of our character that determines our destiny.