16th Sunday Year A - Homily 5

 Homily 5 - 2017

There is a Chinese story of an old farmer who had an old horse for tilling his fields. One day the horse escaped into the hills and when the farmer’s neighbours sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” A week later the horse returned with a mob of wild horses from the hills and this time the neighbours congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?” Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to break in one of the wild horses, he was thrown off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good Luck? Who knows?” Some weeks later the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg they let him off. Now was that good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

Might the old Chinese story throw any light on today’s parable as told by Jesus? Our answer may depend on how far we have taken to heart Jesus’ message at the beginning of his public life, “The Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent. And believe the Good News.” What is the good news? In the rest of his public life, Jesus made quite clear that his God, the God whose kingdom is close, is a God who loves. More than that – God is love. God does not simply love some times, and withhold love at other times. God cannot do other than love. And as we mature across life, we come to realize that love at its best is unconditional love. Can we hear today’s parable, then, in the light of our faith in the God who loves everyone unconditionally – always?

If we can, we may no longer see the parable as a moralistic message about goodies and baddies, reward and punishment. That is how children and adolescents view their world. Rather it can be about everyone, all of us, who are mixtures of both good and bad. It may speak, too, to Pope Francis’ answer to the reporter who asked him his view on gay relationships, “Who am I to judge?”

We all know the good news that God is love. Since God is love, the world created by God will operate in a life-giving way only when people choose to love. The repenting that Jesus asked for involves seeing things differently – nothing other than recognising the absolute priority of loving, not in order to avoid eventual punishment [God does not punish], but to avoid emptiness in our personal lives, now and in eternity, and chaos in our social interactions as citizens and as nations. Does Jesus’ parable hold out the possibility of humanity’s eventual option for the ways of love and the end of all that is destructive? Is that the thrust of the owner’s instruction to his servants at the parable’s conclusion, “Collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn”?

There may be another point to the parable, as well. At the early stage of their growth, I believe that it is difficult to distinguish darnel from wheat. Given that that is the case, Jesus’ story may also be saying that, at times [or is it always?], it can be difficult to distinguish what is good from what is bad, not just in theory, but particularly in practice. For example, the reasons why people do things can be as morally relevant as what they do – whether they are acting from love and concern for others, or out of self-interest [or national interest, for that matter]. That is why it is problematic to pass judgment on others. Like the moral of the old Chinese story, “Good Luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”

Today’s parable can be fascinating when we allow it to tick away quietly in our heads.