In this beautiful homily for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Father Hanly cautions us not to look at The Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat in too simplistic a way.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Second Reading: Romans 8:26-27
Gospel: Matthew 13:24-43 or 13:24-30
Recording of Homily
Transcript of Homily
This parable seems simple enough. I think most of us interpret it as saying that the sower is God. He sows with Jesus, and He sows good seed. And the good seed are the people. And then an enemy comes and puts weeds among them.
And so, the problem now is what should we do?
The first thing is they, the ones that are working there, say to the master, “How come? What happened? You planted seed and nothing but weeds come up.” And then they say, “But that’s okay, we’ll weed out the weeds and then we’ll be back to where we began.” But the master of the harvest, who’s right, said, “No, because they’re planted so close together. And this kind of weed is a darnel. It looks very much like wheat and you might start pulling up all the good wheat along with the weed. So let them both grow and let them come to term at harvest time. And then we’ll take the weeds and bundle them up and put them in the fire. And then we will gather the wheat and put it into my barns.”
This interpretation usually means that, in our world, or is thought to be, in our world, there are good people and bad people. And, of course, the wheat are all the good people, well behaved, very much a part of what the owner wants done in his field. And the bad guys are, of course, the weeds. And I think most of us hope that we’ll be among the wheat rather than the weeds when judgment time comes.
This is a very simple solution. But it’s a very bad simple solution, because it seems to isolate people who are in the church. They are very nice, very good, and they represent what’s best in our worship and religion etc, etc. And, of course, the bad guys, we all know the bad guys: they will wear the dark hats!
In American movies in the old days when I was a kid, you could always tell the good guy from the bad guy, or the good cowboy from the bad cowboy, because the bad cowboy always wore a black hat and the good cowboy always had a white hat, and it was very easy to distinguish good from bad.
Unfortunately, we have a habit of doing this in all walks of life. Our friends are the good guys and those people who threaten what we believe in are the bad guys. And we get into a world in which it seems very plain that we can recognise the good guys from the bad guys. The good guys love us, the bad guys don’t. The good guys take advantage of us never, but the bad guys always do. The good guys you can trust, the bad guys you can’t trust.
This puts Jesus in a very, very difficult position, if that’s the meaning of this.
Because, if you read the gospels very, very carefully, Jesus is much more interested in the bad guys than he is in the good guys. Now, this is a very difficult thing to understand, but it’s true.
One example, the Good Shepherd: he leaves the hundred on the hilltop all by themselves in search of this little sheep who has kind of got saucy and ran off on his own. He was going to do what have you, and the poor shepherd runs all down the hill and into the valley, and he finally brings him back, puts him on his shoulders and then what does the shepherd do? He gives him a party.
Another famous story is the poor lady who was thrown before him, into the temple area, outside the temple, and she’s accused of adultery. And Moses said adulterers – only the women of course – must be executed. And Jesus says a very simple thing. He says, “Yes, that’s what the Law says. Okay, he who has no sins at all, he can throw the first stone,” you see. And the men are good men. Why? Because they drop their stones and they realise how stupid and unfair and awful it is.
This is kind of a turning point in which maybe religious people in general learn the great lessons.
Jesus hung around with the riff raff of society. Why? Because he wanted us to know that the riff raff of society were gold in his Father’s eyes.
We could end it right there. That’s the meaning of the parable.
But think about that now. Think about it. Think of the burden of God. You see you have to get personal with these things. Think of God the way we think of Him, maybe as an old man with a beard or what have you. That’s the way human beings think. You have an image and the images are the only images we know.
And there is God up in heaven and He is witnessing a terrible event. It’s His Son and His Son is hanging on a cross. And He looks down and He’s musing and, according to Peguy’s poem, He is saying, “Why this? Why has he done this? Here is my Son. A father has a right to bury his own child, but I cannot because my arms are tied. A father has a right to go to his son’s wedding, not his funeral, but here am I witnessing the death of my Son.
“And the worst of it is here am I, God Almighty, full of justice and righteousness, fair all the time. And my Son approves.
“But then I am also a God of mercy, kindness and forgiveness.
“And now we have a choice. Is it the arm of justice or the arm of mercy that I must bring to this outrage on the death of my Son?
“And then my Son turns and he says to me, ‘Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.’”
And for all eternity, the left hand of God is tied behind His back, because His Son, who was willing to lay His life down in this terrible way for the salvation of the world, has demanded from His Father that, from now on, there is only mercy.
And that’s basically what the parable is all about. But it’s only one way of looking at this parable. You can look at it a hundred different ways and write letters about it deep into the night.
But the thing to carry away is that God looks upon us with human feelings. He sees us as human beings. And we are not the good guys or the bad guys. We are the ones who accept His love and try our best to be faithful to Him.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
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This homily was delivered on 17th July 2011.
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