July 23rd, 2017: SIXTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
There is no god besides you who have the care of all,
that you need show you have not unjustly condemned.
For your might is the source of justice;
your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all.
For you show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved;
and in those who know you, you rebuke temerity.
But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency,
and with much lenience you govern us;
for power, whenever you will, attends you.
And you taught your people, by these deeds,
that those who are just must be kind;
and you gave your children good ground for hope
that you would permit repentance for their sins.
Brothers and sisters:
The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God's will.
Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying:
"The kingdom of heaven may be likened
to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.
When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.
The slaves of the householder came to him and said,
'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?
Where have the weeds come from?'
He answered, 'An enemy has done this.'
His slaves said to him,
'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'
He replied, 'No, if you pull up the weeds
you might uproot the wheat along with them.
Let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters,
"First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning;
but gather the wheat into my barn."'"
He proposed another parable to them.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed
that a person took and sowed in a field.
It is the smallest of all the seeds,
yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.
It becomes a large bush,
and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'"
He spoke to them another parable.
"The kingdom of heaven is like yeast
that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour
until the whole batch was leavened."
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables.
He spoke to them only in parables,
to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:
I will open my mouth in parables,
I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation
of the world.
Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house.
His disciples approached him and said,
"Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field."
He said in reply, "He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,
the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom.
The weeds are the children of the evil one,
and the enemy who sows them is the devil.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.
The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears ought to hear."
One of Ed Hays’ best-known stories – in his classic book Twelve and a Half Keys – concerns a young man encountering the devil one night on a movie theater parking lot. At first he thinks Satan’s there to buy his soul. But the devil quickly assures him he has warehouses full of souls; he doesn’t need another one. He’s interested in buying his dreams. If he can make that deal, he can change the future of the world.
Fortunately the young man refuses to sell.
But Ed hit on something with which our sacred authors can identify. Once we give up on our dreams, we’re giving up on changing our world for the better.
I often remind my students that the early Christian community is more concerned with having the faith of Jesus than in acquiring faith in Jesus. That’s a whole new faith ballgame. Both the historical and gospel Jesus’ faith is unique; it revolves around transforming our world by giving ourselves for others. If we refuse to make his dreams our dream, we’re destined to one day go out of the same world we originally entered. Nothing will have changed for the better because we were part of this world.
The main problem dreamers encounter is time. It constantly whittles away our hopes and plans for a better world. Things just never seem to turn out when and in the way we expect. It’s simply a lot easier to eventually “sell” our dreams and go with the flow.
As a priest for over 52 years, I can certainly vouch for that sellout. It was symbolic that on the morning I was ordained in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, I and my family had to weave our way under the scaffolding set up to hold the seats for the Vatican II participants. The dreams generated in that Council undoubtedly became the dreams of the majority of my North American College class of 1965. We envisioned a church quite different from the one in which we were being ordained.
For a while some of those dreams came true. Yet it was always a struggle. Eventually many of my priest brothers felt forced to leave the active ministry in order to realize those dreams. And especially after the 1978 Vatican regime change, most of our dreams were officially plowed under. Getting back to the faith of Jesus was put on the church’s back burner. For the sake of our ecclesiastical careers, or just to get some peace in our lives, lots of us mid-60s priests kept our souls, but sold our dreams for less than 30 pieces of silver. The fight just wasn’t worth it anymore.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Matthew’s Jesus clicks off three parables about patience in today’s gospel pericope. Echoing the Wisdom author’s call for hope, Matthew is convinced we Christians are always going to have to deal with weeds in our fields. We’re never going to be working in ideal situations or relating to ideal people. Yet no matter our imperfect day and age, we’re always to be “righteous” – to constantly build right relationships with God and those around us.
Following Paul’s advice to the community in Rome, we have to learn to accept our own weaknesses, confident that God’s Spirit always knows who we actually are. Jesus’ dreams might be as minute as a mustard seed or a cake of yeast. Yet if we weak ministers of his words and actions abandon those dreams, the next generation of dreamers will have to wait even longer for the world to change.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring for those who continue to dream? I personally never thought I’d live long enough to experience a Pope Francis. Yet . . . .