Gospel of Matthew, chapter 13: 24-30
In his famous work, ‘The City of God’, St. Augustine describes the church as a ‘corpus mixtum’, a mixed body or as we say today, a mixed bag. The church has an institutional side and a spiritual side. The institution has its faults because it is made up of people ( indeed sinners ) – the good, the bad and the ugly. What better example of the flaws in the church than the sex abuse crisis today when awful crimes against innocent children were committed by members of the clergy and covered up by the Church’s leadership! But, that does not cause good Catholics to abandon their Church because of the sins of some of its members, even if they happen to be clergy. They know that, in spite of its flaws, there is an awful amount of good in the Church, the goodness of those, especially, who are faithful to the gospel of Christ, and make it present in their own lives and in their own neighborhoods by the way they live.
In today’s gospel, Jesus relates a wonderful parable about this subject. It is called the parable of the weeds among the wheat. Thus, there are sowers and sowers, and in today’s gospel there is the good sower ( God ) “who sowed good seed in his field”, and there is the evil sower ( the devil ) who “sowed weeds through the wheat, and then made off.” This is an image of the kingdom of Heaven on earth and of a flawed Church which is made up of the good and the bad, the good seed and the bad seed.
How does the Lord want us to deal with the weeds, the bad people in His kingdom on earth? In this parable, the Lord’s servants ask Him, “Do you want us to go out and pull them up?” The Lord responds, “No, pull up the weeds and you might take the wheat along with them.” We are being asked here to be patient, tolerant and realistic. Good people have to live side by side with bad people all the time; at work, at play and sometimes in the same house. And, God alone can pierce the recesses of the human heart so that His grace can triumph in spite of human wickedness. Many a sinner was converted to Christ “on the eleventh hour” to become outstanding witnesses to the power of the gospel. Look at St. Paul, the erstwhile persecutor of Christians who converted and turned his life over to Christ! The lord is practical and compassionate. He does not want to unsettle or confuse the good people in His kingdom whose lives are intertwined with bad people. And He does not want to abandon the bad people whose lives can change. “Let them grow together”, says the Lord, “until harvest.” The harvest has reference to the day of judgment when the Lord of the harvest will separate the faithful from the unfaithful, the wheat from the weeds, the good from the bad, and gather the faithful into Heaven.
What are we to do, however, in our present age, about the liberal secular culture we live in that is inimical to the Christian way of life? A culture that constantly raises barriers, and creates obstacles for those who wish to maintain their Christian values? This is a big problem for Christian families today whose children go to public schools, who have to make a living in the secular workplace, who have to cast votes in politics, and who have to take their place in a largely, neo-pagan society. It is a critical question, and it needs to be faced. Some say we need to withdraw from the culture completely, and create communities where Christians can freely practice their faith, apart from an antagonistic secular culture. Rod Dreher, in his book: The Benedict Option, proposes this solution to the problem of living a Christian way of life in today’s society. But, is that really necessary or desirable or is there another way? Is it not possible to live a Christian way of life in today’s world without actually being part of it? ( John 15:19). Is it not possible for Christians to be the leaven in society, the means of improving it, and purifying it of wickedness?( Matthew 13: 33 ). Today’s parable provides the answer. We are not called to be perfect or to live in a perfect society. We are called to be faithful to the gospel, in season and out of season, wherever we live, and that means supporting one another by our love. The Lord does not tell us to get rid of the bad people around us. When Christians, in the age of Christendom, tried to purge society of those whose values and beliefs were different to theirs, they sadly besmirched the very name of Christ. In today’s parable, Jesus wants us to be like the good wheat, but to be patient and understanding of those whose values are different to our own.
Let’s be clear about one thing. Throughout the gospels the true members of the Church, the wheat among the weeds, are those who hear the Lord’s word and keep it. It is important to be aware of this, and of what’s happening in our WORLD, and in our CHURCHES today. We should not be complacent or naive. Even the institutional Church, as is obvious, can be infected by the spirit of the world. It is a venerable Church teaching, Ecclesia semper reformanda est: “The Church must always be reformed.” This teaching is based on the knowledge that we are a Church of sinners, and we all need to be constantly reformed from the highest to the lowest.
The kingdom that Jesus came to establish on earth is within you. ( Luke 17:21 ) This kingdom is, primarily, a spiritual kingdom that comes about when people let go of sin to follow the good news of the gospel. As the Catholic lay mystic, Caryll Houselander ( 1901-1954 ) puts it: “the church is Christ within you.” If Christ is within you, you can possess Him in your heart wherever you go, and wherever you are. You can bloom where you are planted.
We must never lose sight of that.
Fr. Hugh Duffy