16TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON JULY 19TH, 2020 (R. 1: Wisdom 12: 13, 16- 19; Psalm 86:5- 6, 9- 10, 15- 16; R. 2: Romans 8: 26- 27; Gospel: Matthew 13: 24- 43)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
It was Saturday evening, Samantha was at the confessional, and she began to make her confession, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned… Yesterday, I threw stones at a politician…” Then from the other side of the confessional came the voice of the priest, “Please, confess your sins and not your good deeds.”
In San Diego, I have the privilege of meeting people who were born and raised in various parts of the world. One thing I find to be common to most of those I have encountered is the anger, the bitterness, and the frustration that come from the thoughts of how resources are embezzled and mismanaged by a few political leaders in their various countries of origin. My home country, Nigeria, is no exception. In some states in Nigeria, people work for months without being paid salaries. Those in government embezzle the funds and spend on extravagant lifestyles, and they go on air to tell lies that wages have been paid. Our infrastructures and institutions are either abandoned or mismanaged because our leaders fly abroad when they fall sick, and they send their children abroad for education, all with the money stolen from us. They steal our money in the developing world, and they come to deposit or squander them in the developed world with the help of the “developed” politicians.
I once came across a post online where the writer shared that when he sees a good person who is terminally ill, he says to God, “Why not spare this good person and send this terminal illness to one of those power-drunk politicians who are milking my country dry?” In another post, a writer imagined a situation where all corrupt political office holders of her country would gather for a conference and be suddenly visited by an earthquake or other natural disasters so that their death would bring relief to the oppressed.
Today’s gospel passage deals with the questions of theodicy: How can there be a good God in the presence of evil in this world? Why does God permit evil to triumph so often in this world? This Gospel passage assures us that evil will not have it easy forever; when the time comes, the good will be rewarded, and the bad will be punished. Jesus explains this using the parable of the wheat and the weed, which is one of the three parables in today’s gospel passage. He explains that in an attempt to take away the weeds, the good plants may be destroyed, so it is wiser to leave both good and bad to grow together until the harvest, then the weed will be destroyed, and the wheat will be taken to the barn.
But this answer is not satisfactory to me. Since God is All-Knowing and Almighty, why would He not use His knowledge to clinically identify the weeds, and use His power to summarily destroy them without hurting the good seeds while they are still growing? Even as an ordinary human being, I know the specific zip codes of some of these evil people, so handpicking them and giving them what they deserve should not be difficult for God.
In response to my protest, St. Isidore of Pelusium explains that the reason why God is not destroying them now is, He wants to give them time to repent. St. Isidore gives examples of sinners who made the best of the extra time. He explains that we would have been deprived of the Apostle and Evangelist, Matthew had it been destruction met him at the tax collector’s desk. Also, the ends of the earth would have been deprived of the Gospel had it been destruction met Paul when he was persecuting Christians.
But if we still think that sinners should be destroyed now, it means we are yet to understand what is going on. The line separating the good from the bad does not always pass through the space separating individuals, groups, or nations; it also passes through the heart of every person. We find good and evil in every person. Psalm 130:3 responds to this in a rhetorical question, “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”
In many of our political leaders, we see “Failed Promises” walking on two legs. But before I throw stones at them, I am reminded of how many times I have failed my baptismal promises and my priestly commitments. As a married man, you wonder why the governor of your state still has his head on his neck, even though his refusal to pay salaries has sent many to their early graves. But you have also used your resources on shameful things while your wife and your children languish in hunger and poverty. And as a wife, you have not been transparent in your shopping list. As a son or daughter, you manipulate figures when you make your list of books, provisions, and school fees to present to your parents. If we cannot be trusted in the little family we belong to, how can we be sure that when we become the governor or president tomorrow, our case will not be worse than our present leaders?
Recently, God called a meeting of all the angels in heaven. The main reason for the meeting was to find out how human beings were behaving on earth. The angels presented their reports, which revealed that there was a terrific increase in sin in the world, that 95 percent of the people on earth were sinners. Angel Gabriel, at the meeting, suggested the need for God to give some encouragement to the five percent who were still behaving well and keeping all the commandments. So God sent a text message to the 5 percent. Do you know what the text says? Oh, none of you got the text message? Unfortunately, I did not get one either.
That is why we need to be careful with calling for the immediate destruction of the weeds. If we are grateful to God for being patient with us and merciful to us, then we should not question the same patience and mercy when they are extended to others. Let us focus on the good and encourage the good. Mother Theresa of Calcutta is quoted to have said, “The world is full of good people, if you can’t find one, be one.”