domenica 23 luglio 2017

«Das locum paenitentiae»

Last Sunday we started reading the third discourse of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel—the “Sermon in parables.” We read the first of seven parables—the parable of the sower—with its explanation. Today we have read other three parables—the weeds, the mustard seed and the yeast. What they have in common is growth: the wheat grows along with the weeds; the mustard seed grows and becomes a big plant; the yeast makes dough rise. Which means that the kingdom of heaven is not something static, but dynamic: it grows from small beginnings to a great extension.

The parable which underlines more this point is that of the mustard seed. It underscores the contrast between the beginnings and the full maturity even resorting to some exaggerations: it is not true that the mustard seed is “the smallest of all the seeds;” as well as it is not true that it becomes “the largest of plants,” so that the birds of the sky may come and dwell in its branches.

The parable of the yeast, besides illustrating the growth of the kingdom, emphasizes other aspects. First of all, it is not the yeast that grows, but it makes dough grow. Which means: the kingdom of heaven is mixed with the world to make it grow. Be careful: when Christians live in the world, they seem disappear; they mingle with the world; but, in reality, they are leavening it; they are transforming the world into the kingdom of God. Let us not forget it: we are the yeast of the world.

Of course, the main parable in today’s gospel is that of the weeds in the field. Even in this case, like for the parable of the sower, Jesus, after telling the parable, explains it; but this time only to the disciples. This parable also is about sowing; but, unlike the parable of the sower, it does not stress the importance of the ground—in this case it is supposed to be good—but it considers another possibility, neglected in the parable of the sower: besides the good seed, even weeds could be sown. Of course, it is not the same person that sows the two kinds of seed: the owner of the field sows the good seed; and an enemy sows the weeds. It is important to point out this further element: the growth of the kingdom of God is not so plain as we would expect, as if it depended just on the seed and the ground, that is to say, on God and on us. Unfortunately, there is some interference; there is the intrusion of unexpected events that could hinder the growth of the good seed. Besides God and man, there is an enemy—the devil—who interposes himself between God and man to prevent their mutual cooperation. What to do in this case?

We have to distinguish two different moments: the time of growth, and the time of harvest; in plain terms, the present, and the end of the age. What happens at the harvest is quite clear. The explication of the parable stresses this point: “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” It is the time of judgement; which means that at that time the good and the bad will be separated among themselves; and each one will be given what they deserve. At that time God will show himself as an inflexible judge.

Instead, if we consider the time now, the situation is totally different. Usually, we would like to eradicate the evil present among us; we feel it as an obstacle to our growth. The slaves of the householder voice these feelings of ours: “[Master,] do you want us to go and pull them up?” But the master replies: “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest.” As we can see, the attitude of God in this present stage is different from that of the end of the age: now he shows himself lenient, patient, clement; and invites us not to anticipate the final judgement, but to be patient, we too, like him. The reason he offers is: “You might uproot the wheat along with them.” Why? Is it not clear who is good and who is bad? No, it is not clear at all. Usually we think that the boundary between good and evil is out of us—we are good; others are bad. On the contrary, that boundary is within us—inside our heart there are both wheat and weeds. If God took up now his attitude like at the final judgement, we might be uprooted as well. So, instead of complaining about God’s indulgence, we should thank him, since he is waiting for our repentance. As the first reading says, “You gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance (das locum paenitentiae) for their sins.” We are these children in need of God’s mercy.