Today, the author of the Book of Wisdom reflects on the very nature of God. You have to remember when you read the Book of Wisdom that this text was written a few thousand years ago. At that time, not unlike today, people wanted a God who would take charge and punish – namely those who were evil – those who did not follow the Ten Commandments – those who were enemies of Israel and they wanted a God who would reward those who were faithful sons and daughters of Israel.
The author speaks not of a vengeful, protective punishing God but rather a God who is just – who welcomes all people. God shows power not through domination but through mercy and forgiveness, through tenderness and kindness. The author reminds us that God teaches us not to judge and condemn but to be kind and compassionate.
Today I chose the shorter gospel reading. In chapter ten of the gospel of Matthew people are curious about the Kingdom of God/the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus tells three parables that give the crowd some insight into the very nature of God and the Kingdom. The crowds would have been shocked.
In the first parable someone has sown weeds into the field. The servants are angry and want to tear out the weeds. The Master says, “let them be, they will be taken care of in due time! If you take them out now you might destroy the crop. You might destroy something that is good – thinking it is a weed when it is not, pulling up that which is good when you pull up a weed.”
In the second parable, the mustard seed is small and it was considered a weed and yet Jesus uses it as an image of the kingdom. In this parable the mustard seed is useful and provides shelter for the creatures of the earth. Using the mustard seed as an example of the Kingdom would have stunned his hearers.
In the third parable – a woman baking bread is used as an image of the Kingdom – she adds yeast to 3 measures of flour (144 cups) – enough to make 52 large loaves of bread – about 800 slices of bread – that is considered abundance – generosity. Again, Jesus uses a woman baking bread as an image of the Kingdom – a huge shock to his hearers.
Paul tells the Christians at Rome – the Spirit is on your side – the Spirit helps you when you are weak. God knows your heart – knows the Spirit – knows the goodness that is within you.
So what do these readings have to do with us?
I am not sure about you but I grew up with the understanding that as a Christian I have to act better than everyone else – if I am going to be a good Christian I have to make sure that what I do does not diminish the Church in any way. As such the focus was on my moral conduct – what I could and could not do and not on my relationship with Jesus.
Somehow in my formation as a Christian the idea that I am friends with God was pushed into the background. I had to be good so that God would reward me, much like my parents did when I did all my tasks or much like my teachers did when I studied hard and wrote good papers and finished my assignments. God would reward me for doing good and punish me for doing bad.
While there is merit in this approach – the reason why we do good – Jesus Christ - was not front and center. My salvation was – heaven or hell was or the reputation of my family or the Church was – heaven forbid that the Church looks bad.
Today that type of religion, religious faith, that understanding of God and the relationship between God and creation is nuanced, corrected. God reminds us that relationships are important; real power is not about domination or control; it is about mercy and forgiveness. This is what God wants from us. God is about kindness, abundance, generosity and patience. God is busy doing anything and everything to get our attention so that we live up to how we were created.
God still wants to save us. The reputation of family and Church is still important. The reason for doing what we do is not a rule or a regulation – it is a relationship. We are in relationship with Jesus Christ. We are loved. We cannot earn God’s love – it is a gift. We do good things not out of fear but because we are loved! As one of my Oblate elders used to say, fear takes us half way up the mountain – love will take us all the way up the mountain to God.
God wants us to receive the gift of love and then turn around and give that gift to others. Our work as Christians is not to force/beat/scare/shame people into the Church. Our work as Christians is to point people in the direction of God. The God we point to is not a God who scares, threatens, intimidates or dominates but a God who loves, forgives, calls, invites us into life with him.
We are then encouraged to share that love with others through acts of kindness and mercy and forgiveness.
As per usual I have some homework for you.
I invite us to notice the kindness of other people – those around us. I want us to take note of our own kindness – the times when we ourselves are kind, merciful and generous.
I invite us to practice doing kind actions to strangers – it can be something as simple as waving your hand in greeting – it can be as simple as giving another the right of way – it can be as simple as saying thank you – it can be as simple as offering a complement – buying someone a cup of coffee – or it can be as simple as giving a donation to a group of people who help to feed the poor!
We are fed by God’s Word, God’s Presence, God’s Body and Blood, God’s holy people (those that at first glance look like weeds) – we are fed so we can become more and more like our God.
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI