16th Sunday Year A - Homily 4

Homily 4 - 2014

You will know better than I, but I believe that you train a dog by means of reward and punishment. Children are socialised in much the same way. Is that what today's parable is about? Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus had insisted that the Kingdom of God was Good News. Threat of torture, even delayed, is hardly Good News – and what does it say about God? Besides, good seed /darnel, good people/bad people. Are there any totally good people or totally bad people, or only people with varying mixtures of good and bad? Where would you draw the line?

Jesus had said that, in order to see the Kingdom of God as Good News, it was necessary firstly to repent. Repenting is more radical than trying harder. It is more like what happened when you first fell in love, or held your first child, or when your deeply loved friend or partner died. Life was not the same any more. In Jesus’ mind, repenting meant seeing God and life in a whole new light that makes life no longer the same any more. It is a gift of God; which we can prepare ourselves for by sitting lightly with our familiar ways of seeing and behaving, and being ready to be tipped upside down by God.

Jesus told parables precisely to tip people upside down, to set their imaginations free, and to open them to new insights and unexpected surprises. He wanted to break through people’s customary attitudes and even to annoy them – like a grass-seed in your sock or a dripping down-pipe. You need to do something about it.

The way we usually understand today’s parable, it could just as easily have been told by a Pharisee. They were very much into classing people as good or bad, and insisting that everyone else try harder – or else! No surprises there! No life-changing insights! 

Jesus prefaced last week’s parable by saying, Imagine! Let us try it today. What if the paddock with the good seed and the darnel were you – a mixture of good and bad, sometimes hard to tell one from the other? Is a drive towards perfection good or bad? Is needing to be different good or bad? Is being always loyal good or bad? Or never taking a risk? Hard to tell – like good seed and darnel when both are still young. It takes time for the difference to become clear. It may even take the grace of God really to see what we have been up to all that time, for the penny to drop, for the exhilarating, humiliating, liberating experience of what Jesus called conversion/repentance.

Perhaps that recognition is what is referred to by the harvest – when we begin to see ourselves with a new clarity, when we can begin to unload what is harmful in what before we thought was virtue. What might that say about the grace-giving God?

But there is a catch. If we had read the longer version of today’s Gospel, we would have come across Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ request for explanation. At first sight, it seems to confirm the usual understanding. Many scholars regard that explanation as coloured by the bitter opposition experienced by the early Church community in which Matthew operated, rather than originating from Jesus. Still, it is part of the Gospel. So how might we make sense of it in the light of what we know of God revealed in the life and actions of Jesus?

Let us try a “what if”! What if the blazing furnace with its weeping and grinding of teeth were a graphic picturing, not of an eternal Hell, but, perhaps even more likely, of a world-order where people persist in living without love, with their self-absorption and their blind tribal and nationalistic loyalties - not unlike what is happening in Syria, or Palestine or Ukraine right now?

The world need not be so. Jesus has shown another way, that he called Good News, the Kingdom of his Father. We have had a sniff of it. That is why we are here today.