Bottom line: Weeds threaten to choke the good seed. All the more reason to turn to Jesus. Jesus himself is the Kingdom of god.
Summer is a time when a young man's fancy often turns to love. Once a guy who said to his girl, "Oh, I love you so much."
She said, "Well, you can have me for a song."
Trembling, the young man asked, "Which song?"
She replied, "The Wedding March."
We see something similiar in our Scripture readings. This Sunday and next Jesus speaks about the Kingdom of God. To obtain the Kingdom, Jesus makes clear, requires a total commitment. It is not a game. It demand everything.
There is a reason why the Kingdom requires a total commitment. Archbishop Sartain expressed it powerfully when he spoke to the Seattle priests' gathering. He spoke about the relationship between a priest's life and the Kingdom of God. To explain the Kingdom of God, he used a phrase from early Christian writers: they said that Jesus is the "auto-basileia."* "Auto" means "self" and "basileia" means "kingdom." Jesus himself is the Kingdom. In his person he embodies the Kingdom of God.
To embrace the Kingdom of God is to embrace a relationship with Jesus. We cannot compartmentalize that relationship. For sure we have different moments for work, family, friends, relaxation, exercise, sleep and so on. But our relationship with Jesus is not something we squeeze in. He wants to be in every aspect of our lives. He is the kingdom of God - the rule of God that orders our lives.
Now, Jesus warns us that the Kingdom is not all sweetness and light. He of course only sows good seed - but weeds do spring up. The weeds come from three sources: 1) The influences of our culture that strangles faith - much of what comes through television, the Internet, even our educational system. 2) The disordered desires that emerge from within. And 3) the evil spirits. As Jesus says, "An enemy has done this." Satan uses mass media to undermine faith. The demons who work under Satan know how to manipulate our desires - to get us to rationalize and make excuses.
Archbishop Sartain gave an illustration of this process of rationalization: A mother came across a group of boys watching a program called, "Gorgeous Girls Wrestling." She asked them what they were watching. Her son responded, "Sports." We can easily rationalize and the devil is right there to help us.
Jesus could banish the demons in an instant, but he does not do that. For his own reasons he waits until the harvest. At that moment the separation will happen. This is the hard part for us today. Jesus speaks about weeds being gathered to burn. He gives the image of blazing furnance "where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth." We have a hard time imagining this: What could a human being do to deserve such a thing?
I do not have an answer to that question - but to approach the question we need to go back to what Archbishop Sartain pointed out. Jesus is himself the kingdom. We are either with him or not. We have a relationship with him - or we do not. St. Alphonsus Liguori said, "Those who pray are certainly saved; those who do not pray are certainly damned." To pray is to have a relationship with Jesus - to belong to the Kingdom.
As strange as it sounds, heaven is not a reward for doing good.** Heaven is a relationship with Jesus - nothing more and nothing less. In similar vein, hell is not a punishment for doing bad. Hell is the absence of a relationship with Jesus - a turning away from him. Jesus uses the strongest possible language to help us understand that nothing, nothing at all, could be worse than losing that relationship.
Jesus himself is the kingdom. He is what heaven, eternal life, is all about. A fifth century saint, Nicetas of Remesiana expresses this beautifully. He writes this about Jesus:
"If you would learn of the Father, listen to the Word. If you would be wise, ask him who is Wisdom. Are you sick? Have recourse to him who is both doctor and health... Are you afraid of this or that? Remember that on all occasions he will stand by your side like an angel. If you do not know the way to salvation, look for Christ, for he is the road for souls. Do the pleasures of the world seduce you? Turn all the more to the Cross of Christ to find solace in the sweetness of that vine clustered there. Are you a lost sinner? Then you must hunger for justice and thirst for the Redeemer, for that is what Christ is. Because he is bread, he takes away all hunger. If anger is tormenting you...appeal to Christ, who is peace. Then you will be reconciled to the Father and will love everyone as you would like to be loved yourself."***
To sum up: We are in the midst of conflict - from outside and from within. Illness, fear and temptations attack us. Weeds threaten to choke the good seed. All the more reason to turn to Jesus. He himself is the Kingdom of God. Amen.
*In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict cites Origen who calls Jesus the "autobasileia." The pope comments: "Jesus himself is the Kingdom; the Kingdom is not a thing, it is not a geographical dominion like worldly kingdoms. It is a person; it is he." An evangelical Scripture scholar named Ben Witherington has an interesting comment on the pope's analysis of the meaning of the Kingdom.
**For sure those who have a relationship with Jesus do good. They will keep the commandments, join others in worship and receive the sacraments. Jesus, however, does not exist so we can do good works. It is the other way around: we do good works so that we can have Jesus. One of the prayers in the Roman Ritual expresses it this way:
"May the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints, whatever good you have done and whatever evil you have endured achieve for you the forgiveness of your sins, the increase of grace, and the reward of everlasting life. Amen."
Whatever good you do and evil you endure. When the day of harvest comes, we will see the purpose of good we have done and evil we have endured. It will have value if it leads to Jesus, a relationship with him.
***Quoted by Bert Ghezzi in Voices of the Saints
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