Holiness is Not Superficial

Jul 23, 2017: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalms 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43
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In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us that evil will be present in the world until the last days of Judgment when the fruits of all are measured. Evil festers in hearts; it is not always seen on the surface. Holiness is characterized by meekness and humility, so it is not always seen on the surface either. Like wheat, holiness is in the world trying to grow into something good. Like weeds, evil is at work doing the opposite, preying on the good in parasitic way to serve nothing other than itself. It can be hard to tell the difference and, therefore, we need to be on guard against a holiness that is only skin deep.

Today’s First Reading reminds us that we can try to be masters of moral disguise, but the Lord sees beyond the surface and measures us by our deeds, not just appearances. The Lord never misjudges anyone, yet people still try to deceive Him, if they believe in Him at all. The Lord gives the unjust time to change their ways, to seek His forgiveness, usually for far longer than we would, because He truly cares about them. The Lord is willing to put up with a lot of things, but in justice, He cannot ignore insincerity. When we sincerely try to do good and to be good, even with moments of weakness, He forgives and helps us, and that gives us cause for hope. If we’re insincere, we don’t trust Him, and all that’s left is justice. The Lord shows us justice is necessary, but that doesn’t put kindness on hold.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that holiness is something that comes from the depths of our soul because it consists of making the Spirit of God our spirit. The special ingredient in a Christian life is that even when we’re weak, the Holy Spirit helps us to be holy. The Spirit is the central character in our sanctification, from the sacraments we receive to the prayers we say. If the “one who searches hearts” finds the Holy Spirit there, he knows he has found one of the “holy ones.”

The three parables in today’s Gospel teach us that holiness is often hidden, even small in the eyes of the world, but makes good things spread and grow, unlike parasitical weeds. The moment of harvest is a moment of reaping fruits. Our Lord’s listeners in Matthew’s Gospel have just heard the parable of the sower (see the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time), and now they hear their lives compared to wheat, leaven, and a tiny mustard seed. Wheat is not very glamorous, but if we want bread, a symbol of life, it is essential. When we eat a sandwich, we don’t think much of the wheat that went into it, but we certainly enjoy the sandwich. Leaven is useful not only for baking bread but for baking delicious bread. When we receive the Eucharist, made from unleavened bread due to Passover traditions, we note the difference from the bread we eat every day. Leaven does its job by quietly being sifted throughout the flour used to make the bread, but it makes a big impact on the recipe. Mustard seeds average between 1-2 millimeters in size and may seem small and inconsequential, but on a hot day, the shade and shelter of a tree that grows up to twenty feet tall and wide is not to be ignored. The mustard seed in today’s parable also shows that the Church may start small and seemingly insignificant, but is meant to spread far and wide.

The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines a weed as “a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth especially: one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants.” To understand the parable of the weeds and the wheat, it’s important to understand that a certain kind of weed, the bearded darnel, looked very similar to the wheat sown in the time of Our Lord in Palestine and could be easily mistaken for wheat. The man in the parable decides to wait until harvest time to separate them when it’s easier to distinguish them. Sadly the Devil, the fallen angels who rebelled with him, and sinful people tempt and corrupt others, and those who succumb to it are like the weeds explained in today’s parable: they grow by feeding off of others and choking those trying to grow around them, and, in the end, their lives are fruitless.

The sower in today’s Gospel had to wait because the wheat and weeds looked so similar as they were growing that he didn’t want to uproot wheat while he was pulling up weeds. The First Reading reminded us that the Lord is merciful and lenient as well as just. He permits us to live our lives as we wish, good or bad so that we exercise the freedom with which he has blessed us. The Second Reading reminds us that he is the one who searches hearts. He has an insight into people that we’ll never have. A rash judgment is when we jump to conclusions about something or someone, and many times those rash judgments are wrong. Unfortunately, there are as many rash judgments in society today as there are weeds, even from Christian quarters. Imagine if it had never occurred to someone that a mustard seed might grow into something even more useful, or that yeast would take baking to a whole new level. Even worse would be to admit a “weed” into our life thinking it was wheat, or excluding wheat thinking it was a weed. Our Lord is the just judge. Let’s leave the judging to Him.

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