Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, Manhattan
25th Sunday after Pentecost, Extraordinary Form (Resumed Fifth Sunday after Epiphany)
November 6, 2016
Col 3:12-17, Mt 13:24-30
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided today’s homily:
The Last Things and One Essential Thing…
November is a month in which we remember, on the first two days and throughout the month, all the saints and then all those who have died. But these liturgical remembrances of All Saints and All Souls are meant to have a moral impact on us: they are supposed to lead us to remember the ultimate realities of human life, that we will die, we’ll be judged, and we’ll have one or two ultimate destinies, either eternal communion with the saints, or definitive self-exclusion from God and his holy ones. Today’s readings are given to us so that we may face these realities with mature faith.
Wheat and Weeds
In the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds in today’s Gospel, Jesus helps us to focus on the inevitable reality and consequences of judgment and about how to approach life with that in mind. There are many lessons contained in the parable, but in introduction we can say that Jesus describes the judgment under the image of a harvest and says that the wheat — symbolizing the saved — will be gathered into the barn but the weeds — indicating the condemned — will be collected and bundled for burning. Time is shown as a period of growth in the field of the world. We’re either growing as wheat, meaning as children of the kingdom, or as weeds, signifying children of the evil one. There’s also a clear battle going on between the Son of Man who is seeking to establish in us and through us the kingdom of his Father and the “Enemy,” whom Jesus denotes as the Devil, who is trying in darkness to sabotage that work. The outcome of that battle for individuals — whether we’ll go to the barn or the furnace — cannot be seen now but will only be seen in the end through patience and perseverance.
To understand the parable better, we need to grasp better the image of the wheat and the weeds Jesus is employing. The wheat and the weeds (called lolium temulentum) Jesus was describing are indistinguishable during the early phases of growth. Not even expert farmers can tell the difference. When they grow enough to distinguish between them, their roots are so intertwined that you can’t separate them without ripping out the wheat by the roots as well. So one needs to let them grow, harvest them all and then separate them on sifting tables, lest the good wheat be contaminated by the toxic fruit of the weeds.
By this parable Jesus is saying that the same patience and prudence have to be exercised with regard to the kingdom. The good seed and the bad seed, the children living according to the kingdom and those living outside the kingdom, grow up side by side. We really can’t tell the difference between them by sight, especially early in life. We can’t judge by present appearances. We need to wait until the end when Jesus himself will judge. This is an important corrective for many faithful people today. Like the zealous servants in the parable, many still think that the Lord wants us urgently to go into the fields out to pull up all the weeds, to find all of the children of the evil one, expose and in some fashion eradicate them, lest they poison the wheat, the children of the kingdom. But Jesus, without minimizing the evil being done, is not concerned primarily with the weeds; his priority is the growth of the wheat. He doesn’t want any of the good wheat lost by acting too soon, too summarily. We all know that there are some people who spend more time trying to out and oppose heretics, for example, than they do making converts. They obsess about opposing malefactors than doing good. They want to purify the Church of those who aren’t fully faithful rather than focusing on inspiring others by the example of their own merciful fidelity. Jesus, however, wants us to prioritize the growth of the wheat more than seeking to eliminate the weeds.
Jesus is also saying that we shouldn’t be so flustered or discouraged when we find “bad seed” in the Church that we lose our focus on producing fruit. We will always, sadly, find those who, for example, are not living consistent with the Gospel — among the Catholics of our family and neighborhood, among those who teach, even among those who, as clergy and religious, are supposed to be living by the highest standards of all — but Jesus is telling us that there will be some bad seed and that such weeds can provide frustration for the farmer or for the Christian, they ultimately can’t stop the growth of the good seed! He tells us that we need simply to keep growing until harvest time, to keep living our faith with zeal, asking him to help us bring about much more good seed.
In this Year of Mercy, Jesus is also instructing us in the crucial virtue of patience as we wait for the harvest, the judgment. If we try to separate the wheat from the weeds now, we’ll end up losing some of the wheat, especially those who really are or will become wheat who right now would appear to be weeds. If the harvest were done too quickly, there would have been a time when the future St. Paul would have been thrown into the fire before he had evangelized the ancient world, the future St. Mary Magdalene would have been lost before she became the apostle to the apostles, the future St. Augustine would have been singed before he became one of the greatest theologians and signs of hope, and so many of us would have been lost before absolution, because, as we confessed beating our chests at the beginning of Mass, all of us have greatly sinned by our own most grievous fault. In this extraordinary Jubilee, it’s fitting for us to thank God for being so patient with us, for not cutting us down, for giving us time to produce good fruit and become the wheat of God. And we can think about the moral miracle God wants to do with the weeds. Just as God himself took on human nature, just as that same God takes bread and wine and totally transforms them into his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, so he can take weeds and make them wheat, he can take those who are living as children of the liar and the murderer from the beginning and change them into sons of God in the house of the Father.
Putting on Christ’s Virtue
That subject of merciful metamorphosis brings us to today’s first reading. Immediately before today’s passage, St. Paul is referring to conversion under the image of a change of clothing, with clothing being a external sign of one’s identity and character. He said, “You have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator.” The old self featured “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, … the greed that is idolatry, … anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language, [and] lying.” Their lives were full of these weeds, full of this living as children of the evil one. The wheat is the “new self” St. Paul describes in today’s section. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” That’s a summary of the sanctity we celebrate in this month of November. That’s a sign of the type of life that will produce great fruit. That’s the mark of life according to the Holy Spirit, since St. Paul names almost all of the fruit of the Spirit in this great list. That’s what Christ wants us to focus on far more than the weeds.
Becoming Wheat through the Mass
To strengthen us for it, to put on Christ and his virtues, Christ comes to us each day at Mass, so that he can transform us from the inside out. It’s in union with him that we grow in heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace, gratitude, receptivity to the word of God, the capacity to teach and correct with charity, joy and the ability to do everything in his name because we’re in communion with his very person. This is the path for us to shine eternally like the sun in the kingdom of his Father. This is the way we become fruitful wheat, not only by putting on Christ here, but by truly entering into Christ. This was the wisdom of one of the greatest saints of all time, St. Ignatius of Antioch, who died as a martyr in Rome in 107. As he was being brought to Rome to be killed in witness of the faith, he wrote to the first Roman Catholics, “I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by the teeth of wild animals. … Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread. Pray to Christ for me that the animals will be the means of making me a sacrificial victim for God.” Here at Mass today, we don’t need the teeth of wild animals to prepare us to become pure bread with Christ; we have the fire of the Holy Spirit. But let us with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, with gratitude in our hearts, the Holy Spirit to unite us to Christ in this way that we will not only have ears to hear what we ought to hear but that we can become Christ’s powerful voice by adopting his virtues so that many others can follow us all the way to the eternal barn!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
A reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him
The continuation of the Gospel according to St. Matthew
Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds. “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.”’” [… 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.”]