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Not Choosing is not an Option

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Sixteenth Sunday of the Year (A). Fr Dominic Ryan preaches on the existential decision required by Christ's agricultural parables.

In the gospel today we hear the story of the parable of the good sower. The good sower, we’re told, sows good seed, seed from which wheat will germinate. The good sower’s enemy, however, sows bad seed which he surreptitiously introduces into the field and as a result the harvest will yield both wheat and weeds. How should one deal with this? Should the weeds which are springing up be removed? Or should one simply wait for the harvest, remove the weeds and the wheat together, and then separate them? 

The weed in question is most likely darnel which in its early stages of growth is difficult to distinguish from wheat. Later as both the darnel and the wheat mature it is much easier to tell them apart. So if one decides to remove the darnel at an early stage there is a real danger one will end up removing some of the wheat also. It is not surprising then that the parable advocates the second option, waiting for the harvest and separating the weeds from the wheat together but there is much more at stake here than straightforward agricultural prudence.

Look at the interpretation of the parable Christ offers. The good sower is Christ and the field represents the world. The good seed is the seed Christ sows and the wheat is the good harvest the good seed gives rise to, the people who accept Christ’s word. On the other hand, the bad seed is the seed the devil sows and the weed is the bad harvest the bad seed gives rise to, the people who reject Christ’s message. Essentially two points are being made. First, that we must make a choice. Are we to be numbered among the weeds or among the wheat? Will we follow Christ or his enemy? Second, that there will be a judgment, a reckoning at the end of our lives. How diligently have we followed Christ?

At first sight these choices might appear a little disconcerting. Why should we have to choose to follow Christ or not? Might it be better not to make a choice? The parable of the mustard seed which follows in the gospel hints at an answer. Just as the tiny mustard seed grows into a gigantic tree so the kingdom of heaven will encompass all creation. We can no more ignore the kingdom of heaven than we can ignore the air we breathe. One way or another we must decide where we stand in relation to Christ and his kingdom. Not choosing is not an option.

What about the judgment of our efforts? There are several factors which mitigate our concerns. First this judgment happens at the end of our lives. This means we are given an opportunity to prepare for it which we can do by turning away from sin and being faithful to the gospel. It also means God will not judge us until it is absolutely clear what we have chosen for ourselves.

Second, we have been given the means to succeed in our choice. We are not being set up to fail. We are made in the image of God and therefore we possess rational faculties. This means we have in innate ability to determine right from wrong and act accordingly. Moreover all of us receive sufficient grace to act in a manner pleasing to God if we only avail of it. 

Third, Christ’s judgment will be perfectly just and also, fortunately, perfectly merciful. Nothing will be hidden from Christ’s judgement – all that we have done will be laid bare – everything will be evaluated. It will also be a merciful judgment though – our attempts to live well will be appreciated as will our desire to keep responding to God’s grace. 

So we face a choice. Do we follow Christ? Do we accept his gospel? Or do we make the mistake of turning aside from Christ and rejecting the gifts he shares with us? We have to decide where we stand and everything we need to succeed in that choice has been made available to us. We are in a fortunate position really. We know precisely what we should do so the only sensible option is to go out and do it. Let’s pray today then that we accept Christ’s offer and renew our commitment to him.

Readings: Wisdom 12:13, 16-19 | Romans 8:26-27 | Matthew 13:24-43

Photo credit: Lawrence Lew OP

Dominic Ryan O.P.

Dominic Ryan O.P.fr Dominic Ryan is Subprior and Bursar of the Priory of the Holy Spirit in Oxford, and Prefect of the Studium Library.  |  
dominic.ryan@english.op.org

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