16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Fr. Joseph Levine; July 19, 2020
Readings: Wis 12:13,16-19; Ps 86:5-6,9-10,15-16; Rm 8:26-27; Mt 13:24-43
The parable of the wheat and the weeds that we have heard today addresses one of the most basic problems that humanity faces, at all times, in every place. The same reality is found within the Church.
Very simply, why are good people and bad people mixed together in the world and within the Church? Indeed, we can push the question even further, why is good and bad mixed within each human person? Why is there both good and bad in myself?
The very simple, true, answer – an answer that in our pride and impatience we find most unsatisfactory – is that God allows it until the day of judgment, when he will remove the bad from among the good and cast it out. Then, the good, having been purified, will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of God.
Note also that the bad – we are speaking here of moral evil – does not come from God, but from the evil enemy, the devil.
Appropriately, the parable does not speak of the origin of the devil because precisely as regards his evil character, the devil has no origin; precisely as regards his evil character, the devil is defective; evil is nothing other than a lack of good, where good should be. Yet, because of the reality of free will, the devil is responsible for his evil character. So also, all those that Jesus refers to as ‘the children of the evil one’ are responsible for the defect of their evil character.
Nevertheless, the spiritual being that became the devil, was created by God, but his evil rebellion was allowed by God, just as all evil is allowed by God, for the sake of the greater good he draws from evil. The good of the revelation of divine mercy and the good of victory in the spiritual combat. There is no victory without combat and the greater the power of the enemy, the greater the victory. Great indeed is the victory of divine mercy.
The parable also has an important lesson that we would do well to heed: everyone. We are not to try to root up the weeds but must leave them for God’s judgment. We may and we should seek to limit and contain the weeds, but we must not root them up.
This is very important in respect to a problem that is very much in the news these days: racism.
First, though, we must be clear what racism is and why it is wrong.
Racism is any thought, word, or deed by which one person holds another person, created in God’s image and redeemed by the Blood of Christ, in contempt because of the person’s race or ethnicity.
Racism can lead to the abuse of power by those in power, but it can also lead to resentment of those in power, who happen to be of a different race or ethnicity, on the part of those who have experienced the abuse of power.
The contempt with which Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants were once held in this country is the same type of sin as racism. That racism had a particularly ugly quality so to speak, because it was combined with anti-Catholicism.
Racism is contrary to the charity of Christ, who loves all men and who gave his life for all men, and requires that his followers love all men, at least to the point of praying for them, recognizing their dignity, and refusing to exclude them from the circle of divine love, or the possibility of salvation.
The evil of racism is intensified when it is propagated as an ideology or when it is institutionalized in the laws of a nation – as once was the case in this nation. In this regard, the State of Oregon has a particularly ugly history in which the KKK played a powerful role.
Now, how does all this relate to the parable of the weeds and the wheat? Well, the evil weeds of racism can be limited and contained by laws that prohibit unjust discrimination on account of race and by combatting racist ideologies.
Nevertheless, racist attitudes and actions cannot be rooted out of the nation nor the world. The attempt to do so would cause more harm than it would do good.
Here we come to the point: at center stage now is neither the moral condemnation of racist attitudes and actions, nor the elimination of racist laws, but the condemnation and rooting out of what is called ‘systemic racism’, whether by violence or by law.
The thing is that ‘systemic racism’ seems to consist essentially in attitudes and actions present within institutions, or better within persons who occupy positions of authority and power, and that despite the abundant anti-discrimination laws, regulations, and procedures in the books. Systemic racism then extends even to those who passively participate in ‘the system’.
Human law and human justice cannot reach to those hidden attitudes and clandestine actions (especially when they go under the title of supposed ‘micro-aggressions’).
Further, we can observe that those who are denouncing systemic racism are defining the field by the weeds; effectively they are blaming the wheat for the presence of the weeds.
Alas, the attempt to perfect the world by means of law and education, rooting out all evil, has been a characteristic project of the so-called ‘Enlightenment’, beginning in the 18th century and giving birth to the French Revolution and its heirs.
The American Revolution was less ‘perfectionist’ we could say, but the United States has nevertheless been prone to the temptations of Enlightenment perfectionism. The United States also, despite all the great good found historically in the life of this nation, has certainly been stained by an ugly history of racism. The weeds of racism, in the midst of the wheat, have been abundant.
Once again, the field is not defined by the weeds, but by the wheat. By the way, this same lesson applies also to the scandals that have grievously wounded the life of the Church in recent decades.
Finally, the attempt to perfect the world by means of law and education has fallen prey to ideologies – it could not be otherwise since they very project denies the truth of God’s kingdom and God’s judgment – and have ended with things like the ‘re-education camps’ found in Communist China. Today, the Chinese Communists want to ‘re-educate’ the Uighur people and make them good and loyal “Chinese communists”. “Re-education camps” employ all the cruelty and brutality of concentration camps for the purpose of changing the way the inmates think; the goal is to retrain them so they will henceforth “think rightly”, that is in accord with the reigning ideology.
Do you remember the old school punishment where little Johnny would be made to write on the chalk-board 100 times: “I will not talk in class”? Imagine a whole regime of cruelty and punishment, 24-7, built on the same principle, and you will begin to get a glimpse of the horror of re-education camps.
Yet, that seems to be what the enemies of systemic racism want to do with the United States. That is what it would mean to uproot the weeds of racism, or of any other evil. The matter is even worse if the wheat itself – for example the Catholic faith – is the target of the uprooting process. That has indeed happened in Communist countries. That would surely happen if the United States became Communist.
Communism pretends to be a philosophy of social justice, but in truth it is a philosophy of entitlement, resentment, and revenge.
The parable of the wheat and the weeds teach us the limits of human law and human institutions, even the Church insofar as she is a human institution. Nevertheless, what law cannot accomplish, grace and the charity of Christ can. Even in this fallen world he can to a large extent mitigate and reduce the evil if only we open the door to him. Here the Church, through her sacraments and her teaching surpasses merely human institutions.
That is true especially as regards the evil of racism. It is only the charity of Christ that truly enables human love to surpass the bounds of family, clan, and tribe, so as to reach each person created in the image of God. The charity of Christ teaches men, and his grace gives them the power, to look past superficial matters like skin color, and even to look beyond accidental differences of culture, and to love true virtue wherever it may be found and to have compassion for those who are bound by the chains of vice, to detest sin, but to love the sinner.
Nevertheless, charity and grace grow in the good soil of humility. The proud man sees the problem ‘out there’ somewhere: in the world, in other people, in institutions, in oppressors, in bad people, in racists, you name it. The humble person sees the problem within himself. Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.
Therefore, the humble man, patiently accepts and suffers the evil out there, while he also avoids the mistake of trying to uproot the weeds in his own soul.
We are capable, by God’s grace of avoiding mortal sin. We are capable by God’s grace of making great progress in the combat against venial sin. We are not capable of removing the roots of sin that will remain with us until, please God, our purification is complete and we enter into the heavenly vision of the Most Holy Trinity.
Finally, faith in God is absolutely necessary. The attempts to root out evil completely arise from a lack of faith or a loss of faith. How can evil be tolerated except in hope? Faith gives us the hope that Christ will indeed come to judge the world, that he will send his angels to gather the weeds from the midst of the wheat, cast them into the fiery furnaces, and lead the righteous ones into the glory of his Father’s kingdom.