God expects the righteous to be kind

  • July 4, 2011

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) July 17 (Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Psalm 86; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43)

The use of force and violence — despite our denials — is widely admired by many people. Just look at movies and video games, as well as the heroes and idols adored by our culture. Restraint and refusal to resort to force is readily seen as a sign of weakness. And strange as it may seem, there are those who prefer a God who is rather violent and quick to punish evildoers (as long as it is someone else!) in the severest ways. They see God’s wrath lurking behind every natural or human disaster and every personal tragedy.

The author of wisdom does not deny for a moment that God is sovereign and has the power to do whatever He wants. But God’s true greatness and strength lies in His restraint and reluctance to resort to such responses. This patience and mildness is borne of God’s intense concern and care for all people and the fervent wish that all have a change of mind and heart. This does not mean that God is a pushover or just turns a blind eye to our injustice, unkindness and downright cruelty. We live in a moral universe. We will meet ourselves in our experience — what we deal out to others will return to us in one form or another.

Usually the consequences of our negative behaviour are severe enough. But God takes the long view — God wants all of humanity to come to its collective senses and never is that more needed than today. And as Wisdom points out, in so doing, God has provided us with a model of what is expected of us. Very simple: the righteous must be kind. This precludes aggressive or arrogant behaviour, harsh or judgmental attitudes and the use of religious faith as a weapon against others.

So how do we bridge that gap between human behaviour and divine expectation? For Paul it is nothing less than the Spirit that God plants in our heart and soul. This Spirit gives us a "boost" and communicates to God what we ourselves are unable to put into words. This Spirit is an instrument of transformation, not just something to make us feel good. The finished work of the Spirit is a human being who exhibits all of the qualities that God hopes for in us: gentleness, patience, self-control, kindness, wisdom and generosity.

Human beings are an impatient lot — we want what we want now. This applies not only to the usual instant gratifications but to the good things that we desire. We want a just and peaceful world but give in to despair because there seems to be no progress. God help the elected official who has not repaired the economy or fixed the world in the first six months of office. Despite our efforts the positive results seem miniscule. So why bother? Or so it seems. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You may never know what results come of your actions but if you do nothing there will be no results.”

This seems in part to be the point of the parables and similes used in the Gospel passage. The millions of small acts of kindness, compassion, justice and inspiration that people do each day are very small beginnings — like the seeds and yeast in the stories. They are not impressive or much to look at. But they grow to many times the proportion of their original size. The final result is impressive indeed but most of us will not be around to see it. We have to let go of our addiction to seeing results. We do our quiet, hidden and subversive job of sowing the seeds of God’s kingdom and move on. The rest is up to God — and it will happen in God’s time, not ours. But we must also rein in our perfectionism. The field isn’t perfect, there are weeds.

A search-and-destroy operation seems in order, but Jesus warns against this sort of ham-fisted intervention. It often does more damage than good for positive and negative are intertwined in a way that makes surgical removal difficult. Leave it be — let everything grow. In due time there will be a harvest and a separation but in the meantime don’t play God. Huge, cosmic things have very tiny beginnings. Let’s get started today.