Trust that God is capable, compassionate, just

  • July 14, 2008

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) July 20 (Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Psalm 86; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43)

Patience, forbearance and compassion are often equated with weakness. It is far better to be strong and quick to punish, some insist, so that one will be respected and feared. And basing their views of God on the more ancient and undeveloped layers of the Bible they build an image of a God who is quick to lash out with punishments.

But the book of Wisdom presents us with a very different model that is a more mature reflection on history and experience. The author still believes in divine punishment, but that only at the very end of a long process. Wisdom’s God displays His true power and strength through patience, righteousness and compassion. Power that is borne of wisdom and love is expressed in restraint and in gentleness. Violence is so easy and so quick, for it does not require courage, intelligence, love or holiness. It is the world’s response of choice.

But God leads by example, teaching us that the “righteous must be kind.” Good advice for all, for we live in a polarized age in which many consider themselves paragons of righteousness and only their own views correct. In reality they often excel in viciousness, extremism and the sort of judgmental attitudes condemned in the Gospels.

The Spirit is the bridge between the broken human heart and God. We do not know how to pray as we ought, Paul says, but he meant something more than verbal skill or spiritual virtuosity. It is not a matter of learning a specific prayer technique or reading a good book on prayer. Reading printed prayers are not going to be of much help either, for Paul is not speaking of eloquence or pious language. Quite simply put, we do not know ourselves. The depth of our heart, mind and soul is uncharted and mysterious territory to most people. We have no idea of the hidden things in the shadowy recesses of our unconscious. We are not as good as we think or as bad as we fear. If we surrender to it and allow it to work, the Spirit will open our minds and hearts and draw us closer to God.

Jesus consistently resorts to similes and metaphors to paint an impression of the Kingdom of Heaven (God). It is a time when God’s rule will be complete on the Earth, leaving no pocket of evil opposed to God. So people are asking Him some very obvious questions. If the Kingdom of God has come near, then why does evil seem to be on the rise — why do the wicked seem to be doing quite well? 

But Jesus responds to the age-old question of good and evil with another image. The roots of the good plants and the weeds are intertwined in unseen and incomprehensible ways. Trying to uproot all of the weeds in a spasm of righteous zeal could very well do a lot of damage to the good plants. Purists cannot stand ambiguity, but things are not always as they seem and often our judgment is not clear. Wait — be patient — words that zealous and self-assured people always loathe hearing. Trust that God is capable, compassionate and just. Others would point out that the task is so immense and evil and injustice so deeply entrenched that it is hard to see how so few can have any impact at all. Waiting for change or growth is like watching a glacier move.

The yeast and the mustard seeds show us how great transformation is brought about through incredibly small beginnings. Like the yeast and the seeds, our efforts, however slight, work ceaselessly and relentlessly until a critical mass or tipping point is reached. We can apply these metaphors to many things: the struggle to protect and save the environment, working for peace, struggling for economic or political justice, promoting tolerance. Our faith should give us the joy and assurance that our words, thoughts and actions are very powerful and can change the world one small step at a time.