Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time • Year A

Edward V. Hattrick, O.S.A.

Wis 12:12,16-19
Ps 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Rom 8:26-27
Mt 13:24-43 or 13:24-30

In a world created by God and declared by Him to be good, the dreadful reality of evil provokes many questions. How did evil get into this world? If God is good, why does He allow it? If God is powerful, why does He allow it? Can God truly bring good out of evil? Why do our own hearts seek fulfillment in darkness rather than light?

Today, our Gospel reading provokes another such question: Is there anything I can do about overcoming evil? Any steps we can take?

Of course, there is and always must be prayer. Christ has taught us to ask our Father every day for deliverance from evil.

But we must also seek out evil in our midst, catch it early on. I don’t mean finding bad Catholics and ejecting them. No, when I say discovering the evil, I mean to look into ourselves. There’s a conflict in every human heart, between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. The mixture of wheat and weeds is the human condition. We mustn’t demonize our hearts. They’re the field where God has planted wheat, but it’s overrun with weeds.

The field is fine. It’s the weeds we’re after.

Do you know the names of the weeds? There are seven different types growing in the garden of your heart and mine. And their names are Lust, Anger, Pride, Envy, Greed, Gluttony and Sloth. They’re called the Seven Deadly Sins, and they are the terrorist cell in the neighborhood called the human heart.

To remember them, say PAL and then EGGS. PAL: Pride, Anger, Lust. Then say EGGS: Envy, Greed, Gluttony and Sloth. Unless we recognize these seven basic sins, they will spread silently and surreptitiously among the wheat until disaster threatens.

As Jesus’ parable indicates, these weeds are hard to detect. They often mask as virtues. Let me give you an example. Let’s take just one of the seven deadly sins, the one we may think isn’t in us at all. While many of us will admit to feelings of pride and anger and lust, most of us work pretty hard, maybe too hard. We put in a long day. So there’s one sin we may well assume we’re not guilty of: sloth. We may think other people or groups are lazy, but that is one thing we are not. But is this so? Let’s look deeper. Let’s suppose there is a small group of ten terrorists right here in South Africa, in Durban, some of them living in Kloof. Would you be worried?

Now let’s ask another question: suppose there was a small group of ten committed Christians here in Kloof working for the sake of the Kingdom. Would they make a difference? And if you think they wouldn’t, remember you’re disagreeing with Jesus. He started out with twelve. Terrorists have been known to organize themselves in small cells, and they make a difference. Is it only the bad guys who have a disproportionate influence on society?

And this is where sloth comes in. What am I doing to make this a better world? Am I a member of a small group which is dedicated to improve the corner of the world where God put me? Granted, I work hard for my family and myself, but am I doing anything for God? What proportion of my efforts and time do I devote to others?

There are small groups all over the world plotting evil. Are you plotting good, either by yourself or with others? Maybe we are more prone to sloth than we think.

You might ask, “But does one person really make a difference?” If it’s evil-doings we’re talking about, it’s perfectly obvious one person can and does change history. Stalin, Mao Zedong, Osama Bin Laden, Robert Mugabe – all through history, we find examples of one individual who has been the very heart of darkness.

Then how about one person making a difference for the good? The answer is in the Bible: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; Moses, Ruth, David; Mary, Peter, Paul. The Bible is a book of stories about God approaching men and women one-on-one, and asking them to be the bearers of light to a people living in darkness.

When the farmers in today’s parable asked the owner if they should pull out the weeds, he replied, “Don’t even try.” Our Lord didn’t try to pull out the bad ones. Why didn’t he weed out Judas? If he did, he would have had to weed out Peter, too. Peter certainly had made a mess of his life. And so it is with the Church Christ founded. Jesus called himself a doctor who came to heal the sick. Surely it shouldn’t surprise us that the Church is a hospital. We’re here because Christ wants to heal us, to help us get over our sloth or greed, our envy or anger. We don’t know how people will turn out in the end. I don’t even know what I might do tomorrow. How can I judge you now? Think of the good thief. We know well our penchant for judging others and criticizing them; of preserving the failures of others in our unforgiving memories, like a bug preserved in amber. It would be plain dumb not to recognize weeds, but it’s dumber yet – according to the parable – to try to pull them out now.

What, then, should we do? A man once asked Mother Theresa why God did nothing about eliminating evil. She replied, “He did. He made you.” So first we search for the seven terrorists hidden in our hearts, and then going deeper we find the presence of Jesus also dwelling deep within us. And like the group of farmers in the parable who listened to the owner of the field, we join together with our Owner in small groups and practice kindness, leniency and forgiveness. We study, pray, and then act. Becoming like Christ is how we defuse the bombs that may otherwise destroy us.