Friday, February 07, 2014

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Matt. 13:24-30
Any sermon on today’s Gospel really ought to include the Lord’s interpretation of His own parable:

“Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear (vs. 36-43).”

The plants that are called tares are very much like wheat in appearance, but they lack the nutritional properties of wheat. You can’t eat from these weeds. However, it is very difficult to distinguish with the eye between the tares and true wheat.

When the oldest of my sons was only about six or seven years old, he created his own superhero, one who fought against crime. He told me that his superhero would see the bad guys and kill them. I decided that I ought to teach him principles of law and justice, so I asked a hypothetical question: “Tell me, David. How does he know who is a bad guy just by looking at him?” I saw that he was thinking very hard, as his forehead became wrinkled and his eyes half closed in a squint. Finally, he answered: “He has really good eyesight.” I saw that my attempt to teach a lesson about "the presumption of innocence" until proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, was possibly not getting through

And, as we know, the destruction of the ungodly was not the reason why Christ came; He came to call sinners to repentance, as a physician comes to heal the sick. He came not to judge the world, but to save it. He would, as the Lamb of God, take away the sins of the world by going to His cross to pour out His one oblation of Himself once offered; the full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. Before that time, He would go about “doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the Devil.” He did not call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritan village that refused Him, as the sons of thunder bade Him to do; He told them they knew not what spirit they were of, for the Son of Man had come to save men’s lives not to destroy them.

In the Old Testament, the worst of the kings of Judah was Manasseh. He practiced idolatry, even the offering of children to Baal, filling Jerusalem with innocent blood, which the Lord would not pardon two generations later. Now, here was a tare that deserved to be uprooted. It is safe to judge, even within the limits of our own human understanding, we can be certain that he was beyond all hope of redemption-can't we?

He was captured and taken into captivity. But, while being held captive, he humbled himself and repented of his sins, and besought God. The Bible says that God forgave him, and restored him to his throne in Jerusalem. Here we read it, in II Chronicles 33:12, 13.

“And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, And prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.”

No, the Lord does not uproot the wheat in order to destroy the tares. Consider what it would mean if He did. Look at Saint Paul. If ever there was a tare that deserved uprooting, it was the persecutor of the Church, Saul of Tarsus. He had been confident in his own righteousness as a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee who was, as touching the Law of Moses, blameless. And, the crowning virtue of his righteousness was his zeal that he demonstrated by persecuting the Church. When the Lord Jesus appeared to him, as he approached the Damascus Gate, and was knocked to the ground, Saul learned that his crowning achievement of righteousness was actually the great sin of persecuting none other than Messiah Himself by persecuting His people. What had been in Saul’s mind the seal and mark of his own righteousness, was in reality a filthy rag, a grievous sin. And, at the same moment that he was being made aware of the enormity of his guilt, he was being shown mercy, called from the darkness of ignorance and sin into the light of Christ, and to the righteousness that comes by faith in Him. It is no wonder that this whole theme would dominate the message of what, today, we call Pauline theology. And so it is, this one-time enemy of the Church became Saint Paul the Apostle.

Ah, but if the tares were to be so soon uprooted, then we would have had no Saint Paul.

In the 1960s an obstetrician named Bernard Nathanson performed thousands of abortions. Furthermore, he was one of the people who started the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). But, his mind began to resist his own propaganda as his conscience caught up with him. Later he would write, “I came to realize that what I had presided over was thousands of deaths.” Eventually, he wrote Aborting America, and became one of the greatest advocates for the pro-life cause, a defender of the rights of unborn children to be spared, to be allowed to live. Bernard Nathanson was an Atheist, and a mass murderer of unborn children, all in the name of “safe and legal” abortion, a hired assassin under the guise of medicine. If ever there was a tare that deserved to be uprooted, this was the man. We would be safe to judge him so, would we not?

But Christ does not deal with us as our sins deserve. Today Bernard Nathanson is a believing and devout Catholic, and he has saved countless lives by speaking out against abortion, adding a voice that contains thorough authoritative scientific knowledge.

You see, we cannot tell the tares from the wheat, because every saint is a redeemed sinner. If the tares were to be uprooted, none of us would live to repent; the Great Physician would have no sinners to call to repentance. God’s world would be clean and neat and orderly again, and His righteousness vindicated. But, His love did not allow that. Instead He did the very messy thing of coming into the world in the Person of His Son. The Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, took our created nature into His uncreated Person, our temporal nature into His eternity. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” “going about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil,” using His power on earth to forgive sins and giving this power unto men, not dealing with us as our sins deserve, not breaking a bruised reed or quenching a smoking flax. He removed our guilt by removing our sins, and that by bearing them in His own body on the tree of the cross, the Lamb of God slaughtered as our Passover. And, having released us from sin, He freed us from death by rising on the Third day and making Himself seen by witnesses, his chosen martyrs – witnesses - of the resurrection. They, in turn, yielded up their lives to give us the assurance of hope, that we might know of their certainty that they saw Him alive again after His resurrection.

He does not root up the tares lest he root up the wheat with them; for we must come to the knowledge of Christ in order to be freed from sin and death.

Those who believe are “the elect of God, holy and beloved” (as Saint Paul wrote in the Epistle for today). Is there - if I may dare use the word - discrimination to be made between wheat and tares? Yes. We should have a holy fear of God, for on the Last Day at the final judgment, the wheat will be divided from the tares, and the judgment will be rendered. Those who have refused to believe and have clung to their sins will be sent away.

But for now, thank God for His wisdom. For only with His foreknowledge could we know the wheat from the tares; and that foreknowledge is His alone; we cannot share it. He knows a repentant Manasseh, a Saint Paul the Apostle, a Bernard Nathanson champion of the unborn. He alone knows the wheat from the tares. This is something that perhaps even the eyes of angels may not see.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It may be added that since 21 February 2011, "Today Bernard Nathanson is a believing and devout Catholic" must be said in the special sense in which Herbert Thurston (in his "Natal Day" article for the Catholic Encyclopedia) quotes St. Ambrose, "(Serm. 57, de Depos. St. Eusebii) [who] declares that 'the day of our burial is called our birthday (natalis), because, being set free from the prison of our crimes, we are born to the liberty of the Saviour', and [who] goes on 'wherefore this day is observed as a great celebration, for it is in truth a festival of the highest order to be dead to our vices and to live to righteousness alone.' "