Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, February 5, 2017

Evening, 4 February 2017 / Dominica 5 post Epiphaniam / Church of St John

and he said: No, lest perhaps, gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it. Suffer both to grow until the harvest (Mt 13:29-30).  

In our epistle this evening, St Paul exhorts us through the Colossians: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, . . . compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another . . . as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”[1] It should be noted: that the word compassion here is used to translate the Latin phrase viscera misericordiae: “the bowels, the depths of mercy.” 

On the other hand, non-Catholics will often malign us with talk of scandal and inquisitions and all manner of evil conduct. How can your religion be a valid one, they ask, when so many of your fellow Catholics have done terrible things? We have all heard it, and we shall hear it again. The last things that so many of our martyrs heard on this earth were the slanders and insults and curses that spring from the hearts of those who hate our religion. 

Be that as it may, what St Paul exhorts you and I to do—to be meek and patient and forbearing—Christ already is. The Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat that we heard a moment ago is a profound revelation of the viscera of Christ’s mercy and his wisdom. This parable is the answer to those who would slander our faith, those who would claim that our religion is a false one because of the weeds that grow in it.

The governance of any society of human beings is a vastly delicate affair. God knows this because he made us. He knows that the intricate web of human relationships, the projects and partnerships we undertake, the dependencies we have on one another—all these are mysteriously necessary to his Providence, and are not to be interfered with lightly. Only once did God destroy the entirety of the human race, except for Noah and his kin: and the rainbows that you and I see after a summer storm are the sign that he will not do this again.[2] On the slopes of Mt Sinai God threatened the destruction of the chosen people because of their idolatry, but Moses intercedes and it is not carried out.[3] Christ confirms this for us: no, it is not wise to destroy the bad wholesale, “lest perhaps, gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it.”

Remarkably, Christ reveals that to uproot all those who fail to live the Catholic life might somehow damage those who strive to do so. Therefore, when St Paul tells us to put on the viscera misericordiae, to bear with the frailties of others, to be meek and patient—he is echoing the Parable of the Weeds and Wheat. If God himself tolerates weeds to sprung up among the wheat of his chosen ones in the Church, then we can never be scandalized by what we see around us. Do not be confused or distressed by this; Christ the Master knows it well—somehow, it is out of regard for you and me that he permits the weeds and wheat to grow together. 

Nevertheless, dearly beloved, Christ’s mercy is also his mastery: his mercy encompasses justice. Later on in Matthew 13, he explains the parable, and we learn that the cockle growing up with the wheat is, in the last analysis, a temporary state of affairs. Our Lord says to the disciples:
the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.[4]

It not on account of powerlessness that the Master allows the weeds to grow with wheat; as we have already said—it is, rather, a loving regard for our weakness and his Providence that he permits it. Therefore, keep this parable close to your hearts in the difficult times in which we live. Never be afraid or ashamed. We see, somehow, that the mystery of evil within the Church is not an indication that our religion is false—on the contrary, you and I make the radical claim that, precisely on account of this parable, our religion is the only true one. Why? Because it is for mercy that our Master permits weeds and wheat to grow together; and when that mercy is perfected, in strength and justice he will make all things well. On that day, as he said, the angels “will gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity . . . Then shall the just shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father.”

[1] Col 3:12-13, RSV.
[2] Gen ch 7-9.
[3] Ex ch 32.
[4] vv 39-43: RSV. For “all causes of sin” the Rheims translation has “all scandals.” 

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