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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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The Mystery of Good and Evil

The Lord is ever so patient with us. Look at Matthew 13:24-43. Weed (sinners) and wheat (saints) are allowed to grow together. Where are we in this? What is our response to salvation and Christ’s coming kingdom?

We are told that God’s “mastery over all things makes [him] lenient to all” (Wisdom 12:16). In other words, God has nothing to prove. Just as God is almighty, and along with his power comes divine justice, he also possesses a boundless mercy. Indeed, he is forgiveness itself. As believers in Christ, along with the first people called by God, we are also called sons and daughters of God. “And you gave your sons good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins” (Wisdom 12:19). While the promise of salvation has been fulfilled in Christ, the working out of the saving mystery in our lives is our occasion for hope. The difficulty is not with God but with us. Will we repent and believe? Will we remain steadfast afterwards? These are the fundamental questions that must be asked and finally answered for each one of us.

Turning to Matthew 13:24-43, we are given the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the mustard seed, and the yeast. Prior to the harvest, it may be difficult to distinguish the weeds from the wheat. It is the same way with people. A young woman argued with me once that there was no such thing as hell. All people, she said, are basically good. Over and over again, she asserted that a loving God would never do such a thing to anyone. Years later, after the divorce from an abusive marriage and the assault of her daughter by an assailant, she confided that sometimes she had trouble thinking God was good or that he cared. In any case, she had little difficulty in believing in hell as she had experienced a taste of it. Evil is real, although it is sometimes well disguised. The Church requires that we believe in the existence of hell, although as the lay theologian and street preacher Frank Sheed once insisted, we can hope that the devil is lonely.

Charity is the ingredient that distinguishes the wheat from the weeds. If the love of God and of neighbor is not present, then the yield is worthless. Wheat is made into bread and bread is life. We feed one another with our very selves in love, surrendering our lives for one another. Weeds are good for nothing other than burning. They give nothing– not life and not love. Do we take the existence that God has given us as an opportunity to pour ourselves out in loving service? Or, do we manipulate and drain the life out of others?

The parable of the mustard seed has been taken as an analogy for the mysterious and rapid growth of the Church, the kingdom of God breaking into the world. There is a similar understanding for the yeast. However, some authorities have also seen in them a message about the kingdom in each and every believer. The Hebrews saw the mysterious and life-giving hand of Jesus in the seed and in the yeast added to the flour. The soul must be willing to receive the seed or yeast. It must allow watering or kneading. In any case, the work is entirely that of God. The Father kept his promise in sending a deliverer, Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God who allows himself to be planted in the ground after he is taken from the tree of the Cross. He comes back to life and grants us a participation in his new life. We can see something of this organic model in the analogy of the vine and the branches.

If we refuse to allow ourselves to die with Christ, to remain grafted to him, then we cannot possess eternal life. The weeds mimic life, but offer nothing. This is what makes the matter so tragic and confusing. Good people sometimes do bad things. Bad people sometimes, despite themselves or for ulterior reasons, do good things. Who is who? It is no wonder that hypocrisy made Jesus furious.

Sometimes our error is not that we do things clearly wrong, but through omission, fail to do the works of love we should do. A wonderful story about this comes to mind regarding the famous essayist Thomas Carlyle.

He married his secretary Jane Welsh, an intelligent and good-looking woman. A number of years into the marriage she came down with cancer and became bedridden. Being a workaholic, Thomas only spent small snatches of time with her. After lingering for a while, she died. Following the funeral he happened by her diary next to her bed. What he read traumatized him to the depths of his soul. She had written a single line on one page, “Yesterday he spent an hour with me and it was like heaven; I love him so.” He began to awaken from his moral slumber. He had been too busy to be there for her. All the wasted time came to mind when he had ignored her. He felt the knife pierce his heart with the turning of the page, reading, “I have listened all day to hear his steps in the hall, but now it is late and I guess he won’t come today.” After reading a little more, he threw the book down and raced from his home. Friends discovered him at his wife’s grave, his face buried deep in the mud. He wept uncontrollably. It seemed he was trying to bury himself with her. He rambled again and again, “If I had only known, if I had only known.” Carlyle lived another 15 years, but his illustrious writing career ended that day. He had trouble forgiving himself for his preoccupation with fame and fortune, and his failure to love.

(Source: Article from “American Family Association” Newsletter, date unknown. Dr. Donald E. Wildmon, President).

All sin is a failure to love. We can bury our faces in the mud; but the remedy is to repent of our hardness of heart. If we truly love God and neighbor then we will regret our negligence and seek to bury ourselves with Christ, the one we murdered with our sins– the one we have often failed to appropriately love above all things.

St. Augustine tells us that in this world we cannot know for sure who belongs to what kingdom. However, manipulation and selfishness are true indicators of spiritual disease and maybe death. Should this cause us concern? Yes, most assuredly it should do so. However, while there is still mortal life there is hope that we will be counted among the elect, no matter how wicked we have been. Romans 8:26-27 tells us that “the Spirit too helps us in our weakness,” that our prayer and life might be brought to sincerity and authenticity. Psalm 86:16 gives us the posture or openness we need to render for the Spirit: “Turn to me, and have pity on me; give your strength to your servant.” We are all sinners. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. We are not the masters of our lives. Repentance is a prerequisite for faith— and love makes it all real.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

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