Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, Manhattan
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
February 5, 2017
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:
- There’s a peculariar aspect of the liturgical calendar of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite that when Ash Wednesday is early, certain Sundays in the Missal, that normally would be celebrated in February get moved until the end of the liturgical year. Because Ash Wednesday was February 10 last year, the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany was moved until November 6, and so it was just three months ago, on November 6, rather than a year ago, that we celebrated the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost and pondered today’s readings. Then, because we were in the month in which the Church ponders the four Last Things, we examined what Jesus says today to us in the Parable about the “harvest” at the “end of the age,” because it provides some light to the subject of our judgment and the General Resurrection. Today, however, I would like to focus on the other main message of the Parable, which relates to how we’re supposed to live in time, in a situation which there are “wheat” and “weeds” growing up together, intertwined in the kingdom. It’s a situation that is very relevant.
- In order to see the light the Parable sheds on our situation today, we first must understand the “facts” that Jesus was presupposing in his moral story. In the Holy Land still today, the wheat and the weeds(called lolium temulentum) to which Jesus was referring, still grow. They’re indistinguishable during the early phases of growth; not even expert farmers can tell the difference. When they grow enough to differentiate between them, their roots are so intertwined that you can’t take out the weeds without ripping out the wheat by the roots as well. So farmers need to let them grow, harvest them all and then separate them on sifting tables, lest the wheat be contaminated by the toxic fruit of the weeds.
- By this parable Jesus is saying, first, that the same patience and prudence that farmers exercise must be employed with regard to believers in his kingdom. The good seed and the bad seed, the children living according to the kingdom and those living according to other standards, grow up side by side, sometimes in the same field, the same home, the same parish, the same neighborhood. 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 and his angels will do the separation. 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, the “good people.” 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 than they do teaching catechism. They obsess about opposing sinners than they do about becoming saints. They want to purify the Church of those who aren’t fully faithful rather than focusing on inspiring others toward conversion by the example of their own joyful and merciful fidelity. Today there are an increasing number who spend more time criticizing Pope Francis, or particular bishops, or priests than they do praying for them. Now the practice of fraternal correction (Mt 18), of courageously and charitably correcting others who are erring, is an important part of the faith, but I stress it’s a “part” of the faith, and it’s a small part compared to thinks like loving God with all we are crucifying ourselves out of love for our neighbor. Jesus today shows us that he wants us to prioritize the growth of the wheat more than seeking to eliminate the weeds. In today’s Epistle, God tells us through St. Paul the type of fruit he wants us to produce as his wheat: heartfelt compassion, a mercy that comes from the heart; kindness, especially to those who others might think don’t deserve it; humility, so that we see ourselves as God’s and others’ true servants; gentleness, especially to those who are particularly sensitive, rather than bulldozing others; patience, putting up with others’ tardiness and troublesomeness like God is patient with us; bearing with one another and forgiving one another, as God has forgiven us; love, or unconquerable benevolence for others; peace, which coms from being in right relationship with God and in him with others; gratitude, because it is right always and everywhere to give God thanks and praise; living in the word of Christ, and becoming living, breathing exegetes of it; teaching and admonishing one another, passing on the faith with joy; singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts to God, because our faith should lead us to burst out with zeal to God, even if we’re not good singers!; and doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. That’s the type of life that will produce great fruit. That’s the type of life to which God calls us and for which he wants to help us.
- 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! With today’s parable and the one of the dragnet in which the net of the Church brings in both good and bad fish, Jesus is helping us not to be scandalized by the presence of those who might even be living scandalously, but like Bill Belichick will remind the Patriots today as they prepare for another Super Bowl victory, we, too, need to “do our job” and not lose our concentration by focusing on those who aren’t doing their job.
- He’s also giving us an important lesson of conversion. 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. If it were otherwise, we may have already been cut down ourselves. We might not have had the present time to bear fruit that will last, to become the wheat of God. And we must never forget that God can always work moral miracles: 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.
- To strengthen us to live up to what Jesus calls us to today, he comes to us on the altar, so that he can indeed 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.”]