St John's Q&A

Sunday, July 20, 2008

16th Sunday - Gospel commentary

The following is a Gospel Commentary for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap, as found on

Jesus sketched the situation of the Church in the world with three parables. The grain of mustard seed that becomes a tree indicates the growth of the Kingdom of God on earth. Also the parable of leaven in the dough signifies the growth of the Kingdom, not so much in extension as in intensity. It indicates the transforming force of the Gospel that raises the dough and prepares it to become bread.

These two parables were easily understood by the disciples, but not so the third, the seeds and the weeds, which Jesus explained to them separately. The sower, he said, was himself, the good seeds were the children of the Kingdom, the bad seeds were the children of the evil one, the field was the world and the harvest was the end of the world.

In antiquity, Jesus' parable was the object of a memorable dispute that it is very important to keep in mind also today. There were sectarian spirits, the Donatists, who resolved the matter in a simplistic way: On one hand was the Church (their church) made up wholly and solely of the perfect; on the other was the world full of children of the evil one, without hope of salvation.St. Augustine opposed them: The field, he explained, is, indeed, the world, but it is also the Church, the place in which saints and sinners live side-by-side, and in which there is room to grow and to be converted. "The evildoers," he said, "exist in this way either so that they will be converted, or because through them the good exercise patience."

Hence the scandals that every now and then shake the Church should sadden, but not surprise us. The Church is made up of human persons, not wholly and solely of saints. There are weeds also in every one of us, not only in the world and in the Church, and this should render us less ready to point the finger.To Luther, who rebuked Erasmus of Rotterdam for staying in the Catholic Church notwithstanding her corruption, the latter responded: "I support this Church in the hope that she will become better, because she is also constrained to bear with me in the hope that I will become better."

Perhaps the main subject of the parable, however, is neither the seeds nor the weeds, but God's patience. The liturgy underlines it with the selection of the first reading, which is a hymn to God's strength that is manifested under the form of patience and indulgence. God's patience is not simply patience, namely, awaiting the Day of Judgment so as to punish more severely. It is forbearance, mercy, the will to save.

The parable of the seeds and the weeds lends itself to a wider reflection. One of the principal motives of embarrassment for believers and of rejection of God by nonbelievers has always been the "disorder" that exists in the world. Ecclesiastes, which in so many instances makes itself the spokesman of doubters and skeptics, noted, "There is the same lot for all, for the just and the wicked" (9:2). And, "Under the sun in the judgment place I saw wickedness, and in the seat of justice, iniquity" (3:16).At all times, iniquity has been seen as triumphant and innocence as humiliated. "However," noted the great orator Bossuet, "so that the world is not believed to be something fixed and secure, note that sometimes the contrary is seen, namely, innocence on the throne and iniquity on the scaffold. "

The response to this scandal was already found by the author of Ecclesiastes: "And I said to myself, both the just and the wicked God will judge, since there is a time for every affair and on every work a judgment" (3:17). It is what Jesus calls in the parable "the time of harvest." In other words, it is a question of finding the precise point of observation in face of the reality, of seeing things in the light of eternity.

It is what happens with certain modern paintings that, seen up close, seem a medley of colors without order or meaning, but seen from the correct distance they reveal a precise and powerful design.

It is not a question of remaining passive and in expectation in face of evil and injustice, but of struggling with all licit means to promote justice and repress injustice and violence. To this effort, which involves men of good will, faith adds assistance and support of inestimable value -- the certainty that the final victory will not be that of injustice and arrogance, but of innocence.

Modern man finds it difficult to accept the idea of God's Last Judgment on the world and history, but in this he contradicts himself because it is he himself who rebels against the idea that injustice has the last word.In so many millennia of life on earth, man has become accustomed to everything: He has adapted himself to all climates, and immunized himself against so many sicknesses. However, he has never become accustomed to one thing: injustice. He continues to see it as intolerable. And it is to this thirst for justice that the judgment will respond. This will not be willed only by God, but by all men and, paradoxically, even by the ungodly."In the day of the universal judgment," says the poet Paul Claudel, "it is not only the Judge who will descend from heaven, but the whole earth will precipitate the encounter."

How much human affairs change when seen from this angle, even those that are happening in the world today! Let us take the phenomenon, which so humiliates and saddens us Italians, of organized crime. Recently, Roberto Saviano's book "Gomorrah," and later the film made about it, documented the degree of odiousness and contempt of others gathered around the heads of these organizations, but also the sense of impotence and almost of resignation of society in face of the phenomenon.

We saw in the past people of the mafia accused of horrible crimes, defend themselves with a smile on their lips, defeating the judges and courts, gaining strength by the lack of evidence. As if, pretending to be candid before the human judges, they resolved everything. If I could address them I would say: Don't delude yourselves, poor unfortunate ones; you haven't accomplished a thing! The real judgment must still begin. You may end your days in liberty, honored, and finally with a splendid religious funeral, after having left hefty donations for charitable works, but you will not have accomplished anything. The true Judge awaits you behind the door, and you can't cheat him. God does not allow himself to be bribed.

Hence, what Jesus says at the end of his explanation of the parable of the weeds should be a reason for consolation for the victims, and of healthy dread for the violent. "Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with the 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; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father."


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