Sixteenth Sunday of 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

Jesus tells the story of a farmer who planted wheat in a field and suddenly discovered someone had sown weeds there. Questions abound: Who done it? Where did he come from? Why did he do it? What’s the best way to handle this awful problem?

We ask the same questions about our common field: How did evil get into this world? Why does God allow it? How can we say He is good if He does nothing about it? Is there anything we can do about evil?

Of all these questions, maybe we should begin with the only one we can possibly answer, because it’s the only one we have any control over. Is there anything we can do about overcoming evil? Any steps we can take? I mean, other than prayer.

The starting point for us Catholics is to find the evil in our midst and catch it early on. I don’t mean finding bad Catholics and ejecting them. That was the Pharisees’ approach: weed out the sinners. No, when I say discovering the evil, I mean to look into ourselves individually. The mixture of wheat and weeds is the human condition. Everyone of us is a mixture of good and bad. We are the field where God has planted wheat, but it’s intertwined with weeds. The field is fine; it’s the weeds we’re after.

There are seven different types growing in the garden of your heart and mine. Their names are Lust, Anger, Pride, Envy, Greed, Gluttony and Sloth. They’re called the 7 Deadly Sins, and unless we recognize them they will spread silently and surreptitiously among the wheat until disaster threatens.

As Jesus’ story indicates, these weeds are hard to detect. They often mask as virtues. For an example, let’s consider one of the seven deadly sins, the one we may think has no place in our field. While many of us will admit to feelings of pride and anger and lust, most of us work pretty hard. We put in a long days. So we may well assume we’re immune to, or at least not guilty of, sloth. But is this so?

Let’s suppose there is a small group of ten terrorists right here in South Africa, in Durban in fact, some of them living in Kloof. Would you be worried? Of course you would. Now let’s ask another question: suppose there was a small group of ten committed Christians here in Kloof, working under Jesus for the Kingdom. Would they make the difference? And if you think they wouldn’t, remember you’re disagreeing with Jesus. He started out with twelve. 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 striving to improve the corner of the world where God put me? Granted, I work hard for my family and myself, but 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 say, But does one person really make a difference? If it’s evil-doing we’re talking about, it’s perfectly obvious one person can and does change history: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Osama Bin Laden, Robert Mugabe. 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.

1600 years ago at the other end of Africa, a man named Augustine decided to give himself to God. It had been a painful and protracted struggle for him, years and years of delay and indecision. All seven sins had taken deep root in him. Lust? This was the man who prayed, “Give me chastity, but not yet!” Pride? He wanted to be on top: the most famous orator of his age, making speeches for the emperor and enjoying friendships with the high and the mighty. His Confessions make it clear: if ever there was a person in whom wheat and weeds were inextricably intertwined, it was Augustine. Yet he is why the Augustinians are here in Kloof today, 16 centuries later.

There was so much good in him and so much bad, so much light and so much darkness. If light is white and darkness is black, Augustine was a zebra. And so are you and so am I. We’re all zebras, weeds and wheat combined.

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. “The Church is not a museum for saints, but a school for sinners…. Ours is not a Church for those who feel (they are) good, but for those who know they are bad.” (Flor McCarthy) 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 and greed and envy and 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 eject them now.

What, then, should we do? Today’s first reading describes what God is really like: “There is no god besides you who have the care of…. your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all…. you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us… And you taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind; and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.”

How to go about it? 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. Obeying Christ, following his commands even when we want to root up and tear down, is how we deal with the problem of evil – our own, and that of our neighbors.