“LORD, YOU ARE GOOD AND FORGIVING.”
- There is the story of a young lady who was a bright student. Unfortunately, she did not have patience. Her name was Marian. She was working her way through college by cleaning dorm rooms of her fellow students. She was often annoyed by their in ability to say “Thank you” or “Please.” One day she got so disgusted and disillusioned that she was ready to quit. She went to see her professor Robert Coles. At the time she was full of “anxiety and anger.” She said, “I’ve been talking all of these philosophy courses and we talk about what’s true, what’s important, what’s good. Well, how do you teach people to be good?”
“The answer to that question, according to the Bible, is not education but conversion. No one can truly learn to be good, for only God is perfectly good. The light of true goodness dawns only when God shines there,” she was told.
Today is the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Scripture Readings of today speak about the goodness of God and his forgiving love. In the First Reading of today from the Book of Wisdom speaks of the Lord as all-powerful, merciful and just. Despite His divine power that could simply crush all evil, He permits the sinner to survive with an eye to the possibility of repentance. In the Second Reading from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul tells us that the Spirit comes to help us in our weakness and pleads to God on our behalf. He shares our ‘groaning’ and directs us to God when we are lost or confused. In the Gospel, Jesus teaches us about the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven. He tells us how the Kingdom grows and how it can be transformed from something tiny into a large entity. God the sower of good seed allows bad seed as well as good to grow till harvest time and then He will deal with good and bad on their merit.
THE LORD IS ALL-POWERFUL, MERCIFUL AND JUST:
In the First Reading of today from the Book of Wisdom, which is part of a longer commentary on the events of the Exodus, the author digresses to consider God’s treatment of sinners. Why are sinners allowed to prosper, while God’s faithful ones seem to suffer? The answer that the author gives comes from a deep meditation on the Jewish scriptures which reveal a God of mercy and compassion, ‘slow to anger, abounding in kindness.’ He cares about everyone, shining in righteousness and has patience towards all. Righteousness is His strength and he will not judge anyone unjustly. When some are arrogant, doubting the power of God, He shows them His strength. Through such actions, He teaches His people that the righteous must be kind. He permits the sinner to survive with an eye to the possibility of repentance. Despite the divine power that could simply crush all evil, God has been shown to be a God of ‘much lenience.’ The author wants us to realize that God’s power is realized through his mercy for all. Rather than condemning people outright, God seeks the ways to steer them to repentance. “Lord, you are good and forgiving.”
THE SPIRIT COMES TO HELP US IN OUR WEAKNESS:
Today’s Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans teaches us that the intercession of the Spirit is the font of strength for he intercedes according to God’s will. In a distressing world that challenges our limits, the Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. He pleads to God on our behalf. He helps us ‘pray as we ought,’ and God who searches our hearts effectively reveals that God and the Spirit will do anything and everything to insure that we move closer and closer towards profound personal and communal experiences of the Divine Mystery! He draws us into communion with God because the Spirit himself longs with us for that day when we will know the redemption of our bodies and everything will be accomplished according to God’s will for those of us who are his holy ones.
THREE KINGDOM PARABLES:
Today’s Gospel Reading from St. Matthew is a continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel Reading. We have a group of three parables that we hear today, all address the perplexing reality that Jesus and the kingdom He announced seem to tolerate the presence of moral evil. This attitude seemed scandalous to some, both in Jesus’ day and in the early Christian community. The answer given to this ‘problem of evil’ by Jesus is that God wishes to allow the sinners time for repentance and further growth. “Lord, you are good and forgiving.” The excruciatingly gradual progress and seemingly insignificant size of the kingdom is not remarkable and in fact mirrors the natural phenomena of wheat, mustard seeds, and leaven. But all three parables promise an eschatological resolution to the dilemma, both in the fantastic growth that lies ahead and in the judgment reserved for the Lord alone in the final days.
a) “The Kingdom of Heaven”:
St. Matthew in these parables speaks consistently of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ and it could be, for some people, a misleading phrase because it seems to refer to the after-life, an other-world future existence. Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospel does not refer to a place, either here or hereafter. It is actually the reign of God, or the rule of God. It is primarily an environment, it is a set of relationships, it is a situation where God’s values prevail. These values include truth, love, compassion, justice, a sense of solidarity with all other human beings, a sense of trust in other, a deep respect for the dignity of every other human person, a holistic concept of human growth and development. They are the deepest human values and aspirations as mirrored in the life of Jesus, and all these are to be seen in the light of God, who is their ultimate Source.
b) The Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat:
The first parable in today’s Gospel is of the weeds among the wheat. In this parable there are two sowers, two kinds of seed, and two harvests – one good the other bad. The wheat sown in the field is understood to be good and weed sown by the enemy is bad. The landowner counseled against pulling out the weeds, lest the wheat may also be pulled out. This decision makes sense because wheat is usually planted to grow very close together. If there are weeds among them, the roots may have intertwined. It is wiser to let the weeds grow with the wheat and sort them out at harvest time. The point is that the judgment between the wheat and the weeds is not easy and hasty judgment can be disastrous. A second point is that final judgment can be made only by the owner.
The explanation of the parable of the weeds by Jesus is clear. The wheat are the true believers, planted by Jesus, the Sower, in the world, to bear the fruits of his Spirit, so as to build his kingdom. At the same time, the devil also plants his followers as weeds among the true believers of Jesus Christ. The problem with the wheat and weeds is that both look alike in their growth stage. Their difference is only noticeable when they are fully grown. The weeds represent counterfeit believers of Christ who mislead others away from God with false teachings. In so doing, they are out to obstruct the growth of the kingdom of heaven in the world. They are out to destroy the ministry of the proclamation of the gospel by God’s people. They cause others, even true Christians, to fall into sin and do evil. This is why Jesus cautions us to be on the watch and prayerful all the time. However, God is patient and kind to them and gives them opportunity to repent. “Lord, you are good and forgiving.” The parable of the weeds among the wheat tells that the good people (true believers) and evil people (counterfeit believers) both will be living together until the end of the world. On the day of judgment God will separate the evil from the good and will deal with them according to their merit.
c) The Parable of the Mustard Seed:
The second parable is the parable of the mustard seed. The tiny mustard seed literally grew to be a tree which attracted numerous birds because they loved the little black mustard seed it produced. God’s kingdom works in a similar fashion. It starts from the smallest beginnings in the hearts of men and women who are receptive to God’s word but ends with extraordinarily large results. There is no attempt to explain how this happens. It works unseen and causes a transformation from within. There is nothing about it that would attract attention, wonder and admiration. It takes place in a quiet way. Such is the kingdom of heaven. Its growth is miraculous and mysterious and rooted in the things of our common experience. The challenge is always to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.
The parable also reflects on the Church established by Christ and its spectacular growth. He is predicting that while his group of followers will grow extremely large from just a small start, it will not remain pure. The parable of the mustard seed is both a prediction and a warning.
d) The Parable of the Yeast:
The third parable is the parable of the yeast. Here, the kingdom of heaven is compared to a small amount of yeast in a large batch of dough. Yeast is a powerful agent of change, and only a little is kneaded into the dough. Yet given time, it will spread through all the dough – its effect is comprehensive. In the same way, Jesus’ domain started with twelve men, but it has spread throughout the world.
Again, the yeast makes dough rise from within. Similarly, kingdom of heaven exerts its influence from within. God first changes the heart of a person and that internal change has external manifestations.
Moreover, the yeast does its job slowly, secretly and silently, but no one can deny its effect on bread. The same true of the works of grace in our hearts. The kingdom of heaven works invisibly, its effect is evident to all.
The Kingdom of Heaven calls us today to attain the highest ideals and greatest generosity. It calls us to be loving and forgiving. It also calls for a great measure of tolerance, patience and understanding in seeing the Kingdom become a reality. Our experience again and again confirms that, whenever we try to bring any change and reforms in any community, it is challenged. The parables remind us that in each one of us there are elements of the Kingdom and elements that are deeply opposed to it. The difference between the good and the bad does not consist in the fact that the good have no weaknesses at all or do not commit sins. Rather, the good recognize their shortcomings and sins and they work hard to slowly overcome them. For His part, God continually sends them the grace to succeed in their efforts. If we all fight the evil inside us with God’s help, then from within us will proceed good deeds. Then there will be less evil in the world, less evil done by people to one another.
Finally, the co-existence of bad and good in the world is a reality we have to live with. Good and bad people are with us in the Church, the workplaces and even at home. And this reveals to us the reason why Jesus came: not as Judge but as Savior. Sure, he will be our Judge, too, but later – at the Last Judgment. Meanwhile, he continues to remain ever patient and forbearing, lovingly cajoling us to follow the straight and narrow path so that we will not have ourselves condemned to eternal damnation.
“Lord, you are good and forgiving.” And this is the Good News of today.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.