Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Go to Sleep, Let God fix it

Sixteenth Ordinary Sunday Year A

After listening to complaints from parishioners for over thirteen years, I’ve come to realise that the common request or suggestion is that I should summarily reprimand, remove or dismiss all the ‘troublemakers’ in the parish.  However, my usual reply is that if I were to act on every complaint, including the complains I get about the complainers; then I would end up sacking over 90% of the people in the parish! That answer is very unpopular, because many parishioners would expect me to be more pro-active and play tough (ironically, I must be tough only with the others, never with the complainers). But I guess this tendency goes beyond the parish. We seem to have a natural human desire to root out and destroy all that troubles us. We want to look for the final solution to all our problems. But in doing so, we end up devising greater suffering. Perhaps, the best example of this point is found in the Nazi’s Final Solution – millions of Jews and other nationalities and differently able persons had to die in this mad search for perfection. The very defenders of peace eventually turned into the greatest perpetrators of violence.

Strangely, it is not the Hitlers, the Pol Pots or the Lenins of this world that are solely guilty of such horrendous crimes. The trait is also present with many well-intentioned activists, visionaries who believe that it is incumbent upon them to fix the problem where they see fit, whether it be in society, the Church or the world. Some people just can’t stop themselves from meddling. We have to fix it; get rid of the undesirables. Do it our way. The problem with 'people with a cause', is that they often do more harm for their cause than if they did nothing at all. Trying to bend the world or reform the Church or shape others according to the way they see it. So they spend a great deal of effort and time trying to control what can’t be controlled. Even though their original motive may have been noble, they actually make things worse, whilst trying to make them better. Instead of building God’s kingdom, they end up building their own. They get in God’s way.

Today’s set of three parables are bent on frustrating these would-be Saviours of the world. They go against the grain because it seems to be soft on evil. In light of recent terrorist attacks, it seems not only naive, but it leaves us with few good options. Kill all the terrorists! We don’t have to look too far. There are the progressive-liberals within the Church who certainly believe that the Church would be much better off without all the conservative fuddy-duddies who seem to hold back the Church in her progress, and the defenders of Tradition who feel frustrated that God doesn’t seem to be doing anything about the liberal heretics who are ruining the Church and dragging her to hell. It even looks like God is either asleep on the job or His incompetent cousin is running things from the parlour. And we’re left to wonder who’s in charge out there? 

In the first parable, in response to the servants’ desire to root out the darnel, to fix the problem, the Master orders, “Let them both grow till the harvest.” This is a stunning proposal: Just leave the weeds alone? You mean, “Let them have their way?” On the surface, the parable seems to be calling for passivity in the face of evil or worse, the tolerance of evil. Why would the master say what he said to his servants?

The counsel of Jesus is prudent. It is a reminder that life can be messy and we need not and should not play God or vigilantes. Since this is God’s Kingdom, He should be in charge. He sets the agenda, He lays out the path, and He determines the deadline. The problem is that the difference between the wheat and darnel is not always going to be obvious, and that there is potential danger of mistaking the good for the bad, the will of man for that of the will of God. Furthermore, one may find both wheat and darnel mixed up within every person. Goodness and evil, love and hate, prosperity and adversity, joy and sorrow all are so intimately intertwined. We may risk getting rid of the good in our zealous desire to root out the bad. Destroy the possibility of evil and you also destroy the possibility of goodness.

The patience of the farmer in letting the darnel grow on until harvest time, exemplifies the infinite mercy of God toward sinners. The parable reminds us that sinners are to be dealt with patiently, it offers us assurance that in the end God’s way will be victorious.  That one day “the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father”. The darnel could not change its nature, but the sinner can change his ways and God gives him every chance and every help to do this, up to his last moment of life. But in the end, there will be Judgment.

We must learn a double lesson of patience from this parable. First, to be patient with those who make our spiritual progress more difficult for us—they are actually helping us to be better Christians if we bear with patience the injuries they inflict on us. Second, we must try to imitate the patience God shows in His dealings with sinners. Such patience, however, can never be interpreted as mere passivity. I don’t think God wants us to wait ‘patiently,’ twiddle our thumbs and do nothing. We should never tire of striving against evil. While we must not approve of evil deeds or sins of others, we must still look on them as our brothers and sisters and do all in our power to put them back on the right road to heaven. We can do this by good example, and by fervent prayer for their conversion. We should also be rooting evil and sin within ourselves by making frequent confessions. Where it is opportune, to engage the other in fraternal correction, for it is an act of mercy to admonish the sinner and instruct the ignorant.

The additional two parables of the mustard seed and the leaven reinforce the message of the first. Rather than expecting smooth unhindered growth, we must accept that the growth of the Kingdom is always a messy affair and something beyond our perception. Don’t panic when you only perceive chaos. God remains in charge. Everything may seem to be getting completely out of control. But God remains in control. God does not only tolerate the messiness but in fact subverts the messiness and uses it as the raw material of His Kingdom. He often chooses and uses the defective, the rejects, the marginalised, the sinners, “the mustard seed(s)” and “leaven of this world” to be His instruments of grace.

We long for the time when the Kingdom will be complete, but that perfection would not be found in any earthly or human Utopia. For now we have to recognise that this is the way that God creates and works, and brings good life. God allows the mess. He demonstrates the value of the mess through the death of His Son on the cross. At the moment of the cross, it becomes clear that evil is utterly subverted for good. The Kingdom is built on the blood of martyrs, rather than on success stories. Persecution cannot destroy the Church, it can only make it stronger.

These parables provide enormous encouragement to all of us – God is in-charge! There is a story told about Pope St John XXIII, the architect of the Second Vatican Council, whose personal name was Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli. When he prayed, he had a habit of ending his lengthy prayers each night, by talking to himself. After a day of laborious church-work, he’d ask himself this question after struggling with insolvable church problems:  “So who governs the church? You or God?  Very well, then Angelo, go to sleep.”   He got it right. Let God be God and let Him take charge. It’s comforting to know that although we are not able to fix everything, solve every problem, find closure to every issue, there is someone who can.  Good to remember, “who governs the world, who governs the Church? You or God? Very well, go to sleep!”

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