Friday, February 07, 2014
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Any sermon on today’s Gospel really ought to include the Lord’s interpretation of His own parable:
“Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear (vs. 36-43).”
The plants that are called tares are very much like wheat in appearance, but they lack the nutritional properties of wheat. You can’t eat from these weeds. However, it is very difficult to distinguish with the eye between the tares and true wheat.
When the oldest of my sons was only about six or seven years old, he created his own superhero, one who fought against crime. He told me that his superhero would see the bad guys and kill them. I decided that I ought to teach him principles of law and justice, so I asked a hypothetical question: “Tell me, David. How does he know who is a bad guy just by looking at him?” I saw that he was thinking very hard, as his forehead became wrinkled and his eyes half closed in a squint. Finally, he answered: “He has really good eyesight.” I saw that my attempt to teach a lesson about "the presumption of innocence" until proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, was possibly not getting through
And, as we know, the destruction of the ungodly was not the reason why Christ came; He came to call sinners to repentance, as a physician comes to heal the sick. He came not to judge the world, but to save it. He would, as the Lamb of God, take away the sins of the world by going to His cross to pour out His one oblation of Himself once offered; the full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. Before that time, He would go about “doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the Devil.” He did not call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritan village that refused Him, as the sons of thunder bade Him to do; He told them they knew not what spirit they were of, for the Son of Man had come to save men’s lives not to destroy them.
In the Old Testament, the worst of the kings of
was Manasseh. He practiced
idolatry, even the offering of children to Baal, filling Judah with innocent blood, which the Lord
would not pardon two generations later. Now, here was a tare that deserved to
be uprooted. It is safe to judge, even within the limits of our own human
understanding, we can be certain that he was beyond all hope of
redemption-can't we? Jerusalem
He was captured and taken into captivity. But, while being held captive, he humbled himself and repented of his sins, and besought God. The Bible says that God forgave him, and restored him to his throne in
. Here we read it, in II Chronicles
33:12, 13. Jerusalem
“And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, And prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to
kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.” Jerusalem
No, the Lord does not uproot the wheat in order to destroy the tares. Consider what it would mean if He did. Look at
. If ever there was a tare that deserved
uprooting, it was the persecutor of the Church, Saul of Tarsus. He had been confident
in his own righteousness as a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee who was, as
touching the Law of Moses, blameless. And, the crowning virtue of his
righteousness was his zeal that he demonstrated by persecuting the Church. When
the Lord Jesus appeared to him, as he approached the Damascus Gate, and was
knocked to the ground, Saul learned that his crowning achievement of
righteousness was actually the great sin of persecuting none other than Messiah
Himself by persecuting His people. What had been in Saul’s mind the seal and
mark of his own righteousness, was in reality a filthy rag, a grievous sin.
And, at the same moment that he was being made aware of the enormity of his
guilt, he was being shown mercy, called from the darkness of ignorance and sin
into the light of Christ, and to the righteousness that comes by faith in Him.
It is no wonder that this whole theme would dominate the message of what,
today, we call Pauline theology. And so it is, this one-time enemy of the
Church became Saint
the Apostle. Saint Paul
Ah, but if the tares were to be so soon uprooted, then we would have had no
. Saint Paul
In the 1960s an obstetrician named Bernard Nathanson performed thousands of abortions. Furthermore, he was one of the people who started the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). But, his mind began to resist his own propaganda as his conscience caught up with him. Later he would write, “I came to realize that what I had presided over was thousands of deaths.” Eventually, he wrote Aborting America, and became one of the greatest advocates for the pro-life cause, a defender of the rights of unborn children to be spared, to be allowed to live. Bernard Nathanson was an Atheist, and a mass murderer of unborn children, all in the name of “safe and legal” abortion, a hired assassin under the guise of medicine. If ever there was a tare that deserved to be uprooted, this was the man. We would be safe to judge him so, would we not?
But Christ does not deal with us as our sins deserve. Today Bernard Nathanson is a believing and devout Catholic, and he has saved countless lives by speaking out against abortion, adding a voice that contains thorough authoritative scientific knowledge.
You see, we cannot tell the tares from the wheat, because every saint is a redeemed sinner. If the tares were to be uprooted, none of us would live to repent; the Great Physician would have no sinners to call to repentance. God’s world would be clean and neat and orderly again, and His righteousness vindicated. But, His love did not allow that. Instead He did the very messy thing of coming into the world in the Person of His Son. The Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, took our created nature into His uncreated Person, our temporal nature into His eternity. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” “going about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil,” using His power on earth to forgive sins and giving this power unto men, not dealing with us as our sins deserve, not breaking a bruised reed or quenching a smoking flax. He removed our guilt by removing our sins, and that by bearing them in His own body on the tree of the cross, the Lamb of God slaughtered as our Passover. And, having released us from sin, He freed us from death by rising on the Third day and making Himself seen by witnesses, his chosen martyrs – witnesses - of the resurrection. They, in turn, yielded up their lives to give us the assurance of hope, that we might know of their certainty that they saw Him alive again after His resurrection.
He does not root up the tares lest he root up the wheat with them; for we must come to the knowledge of Christ in order to be freed from sin and death.
Those who believe are “the elect of God, holy and beloved” (as
wrote in the Epistle for today).
Is there - if I may dare use the word - discrimination to be made between wheat
and tares? Yes. We should have a holy fear of God, for on the Last Day at the
final judgment, the wheat will be divided from the tares, and the judgment will
be rendered. Those who have refused to believe and have clung to their sins
will be sent away. Saint Paul
But for now, thank God for His wisdom. For only with His foreknowledge could we know the wheat from the tares; and that foreknowledge is His alone; we cannot share it. He knows a repentant Manasseh, a
the Apostle, a Bernard Nathanson
champion of the unborn. He alone knows the wheat from the tares. This is
something that perhaps even the eyes of angels may not see. Saint Paul