Homily for 16th Sunday of Year A, July 17, 2005
Wis. 12:13, 16-19; Ps. 86; Rom. 8:26-27; Mt. 13:24-30
Patience—God’s and Our
Today’s readings paint a surprising—and encouraging—picture of how God responds to our failures, weaknesses, and even injustices and sins. Their portrait of God is summed up in the responsorial Psalm: “You, O Lord, are merciful . . . slow to anger and abounding in kindness.” In the face of our failures and infidelities, God is patient and never gives up on us. We are invited to treat each other this way.
Patience is not a virtue that comes easily to us Americans. We are a “can do” people who want to make things happen—now. This especially true when something harmful is going on. Our response is very likely to be: “This has got to stop!” “Why doesn’t somebody do something about this?” Haven’t you heard this in your family kitchen—this child or spouse or sibling just has to shape up! If they don’t, there will be hell to pay! Or we hear this in our politics. President Reagan called the former Soviet Union the “evil empire” and our current President Bush called Iraq part of the “axis of evil.” In both cases the description involved a threat of war, which has been carried out in Iraq. A similar reaction seems to have led a few British Muslims to make the recent bombings in London. One British Muslim leader put it this way: “The blood of Iraqis is just as important to us as English blood.” When you see things that way, he said, you understand why somebody had to take action.
Patience with erring members of our family, with co-workers, on in politics is not easy. This is especially true when they are really doing something harmful or even unjust. Our reaction is to take action to get them to shape up. Or if they won’t shape up, just write them off or bash them in retaliation. How many relationships have come apart this way? How many tragic wars have begun this way?
It is certainly true that there are times when harmful behavior has to be stopped in a family or politics. Patience doesn’t mean putting up with spouse abuse or genocide like that going on in Sudan today. But Jesus teaches that we reach that point much less frequently than our desire to “do something” might suggest. For example, when a woman was caught in the act of adultery, Jesus’ contemporaries wanted to “do something”—they wanted to stone her. Jesus forgave her and invited her and many like her to his dinner table. Jesus’ contemporaries also wanted to “do something” about the Roman imperial occupation of their country. Those called “zealots” wanted to resist Rome violently. But when Jesus met a man who was a collaborator with Rome—a tax collector named Matthew, he called him to be one of his apostles. This Matthew is the one who records the gospel story of today. Jesus welcomed prostitutes and tax collectors and they became his friends and followers
Jesus explained this scandalous association with sinners by comparing his mission to that of a farmer who sows good seed expecting a fine harvest. But an enemy comes and sows weeds with the wheat. The farmworkers urge him to “do something”—root out the weeds as soon as they sprout. But Jesus has a different approach. Let them both grow together, because “you might uproot the wheat along with them.” “Just wait. Have patience!”
The first reading takes this to a deeper level. The book of Wisdom tells us that patience is not just a moral virtue that helps avoid unnecessary conflict. Patience, forbearance, and leniency are among the most important indicators of who God is and how God treats us. There is a paradox here. The book of Wisdom describes God is as mighty “master of all things” who possesses the “perfection of power.” But God’s mastery and justice make God lenient and patient. True power is not the ability to make sure that good people are rewarded and bad ones punished as soon as possible. True greatness means helping the erring find the true path. This leads to Wisdom’s astonishing statement: “those who are just must be kind.” God’s greatness is shown in God’s patient kindness and mercy. How fortunate we are that this is true! For if we are honest, we know that we are not just wheat, and the people who upset us are not just weeds. Today’s good news is that God will be patient with all of us a while longer. Let’s give thanks for that.
David Hollenbach, S.J. St. Ignatius Church July 17, 2005