The Lord Our God: The Just and Merciful Judge Is kind To Us!
Readings: 1st: 12, 13. 16-19; Ps 85, 5-6. 9-10.15-16; 2nd: Rom 8, 26-27; Gos Mtt 13, 24-43
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Given our constant request, and need for mercy and forgiveness due to our weakness, the Holy Mother Church on this 16th Sunday of ordinary time turns our attention to the Lord the Merciful and Just Judge who assures us of forgiveness when we repent and remain faithful amidst all oppositions the world posses to us. She also, in a special way calls us to get glued to the Holy Spirit who is ever ready to help us, by pleading our case in our weakness.
A priest once put up the following questions to his congregation: “In whose hands are the souls of the righteous? They happily responded: “In the hands of God!” Again, he asked them: “In whose hands are the souls of the wicked?” Joyfully again they responded with a deafening shout: “In the devil’s hands!” Finally, he asked them: “In whose hands is the soul of the devil?” At this juncture, there was a grave silence. However, after some fractions of minute, and as if they have woken up from David Hume’s dogmatic slumber, they reluctantly responded: “In God’s hands!” Indeed, we all belong to God. I am sure someone there is already asking me: “You mean, including that wicked fellow and devil incarnate that has been a thorn in my flesh and made my life miserable? Yes my dear, even he/she! However, God being the just judge knows what to do with each one of us on his great harvest day. It is not within our jurisdiction to decide because we ourselves are weak and in dire need of help.
In the first reading of today, Wisdom extolled God for being a just judge, and a caring Father: “You never judge unjustly. Your justice has its source in strength.” This is the nature of our God, the just judge who over looks our sins in fulfillment of what the Psalmist says: “If you mark our iniquity, Oh Lord, who will survive?” (Ps 130, 3). Therefore, God as a merciful father is never too hard on us. He gives us the due attention necessary for our wellbeing. At times though, it could involve chastisement. Yet, it is just and for our good. He gives us ample room to retrace our steps and make amends. Hence, Wisdom says of Him: “…and you have given your sons the just hope that after sin you grant repentance.” What must we make of, and learn in from this? Quite simple! Since God is just and ready to acquit us by granting us repentance which sincerely speaking is grace, we too must do same to others. Just as the Lord is kind in judgment to us, we too must do same to our brethrens: “…By acting thus, you have taught a lesson to your people how the virtuous man must be kindly to his fellow men!” In order words, we must learn from God as our father not to be too hard in judging our fellow men and women. This calls for emulating God’s very high sense of judgment.
In the second reading of today, Paul highlights one very important ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is given the fact that as mortals and frail beings, there are definitely times in life when we cannot help ourselves. Swiss scholar Frederick Godet called Paul’s Epistle to the Romans “the cathedral of the Christian faith,” in the nineteenth century, and so, compared it to the great masterpieces of medieval architecture: “We do not know which to admire the most, the majesty of the whole or the finish of the details” (The Epistle to the Romans, 1879). When a Christian comes to Romans 8 he cannot but enter the beautiful inner sanctuary of this impressive cathedral. Surrounding the pilgrim are stunning sculptures and frescoes that teach what it means to walk in the assurance of what Christ has done for us. Prominent in the display is God the Holy Spirit. The Greek word πνεῦμα (Spirit) occurs 21 times in Romans 8. It would appear that only two of these occurrences (v 15a, 16b) do not refer to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s ministry within Christianity and for Christians takes center stage in this most comforting chapter. The Holy Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. This weakness of ours is expressed in many ways, but mostly, in and during the course prayer. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in to help us in addition to bearing witness that we are God’s children (Rom 8, 14-15). In order words, it is the Spirit of God that strengthens, energizes, and in fact, advocates for us before God. The reasons are quite simple and obvious: we are weak and “do not know how to pray”, he alone can succeed wherever we fail because, He alone speaks the language that God understands: “…The Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put in words…God knows perfectly well what He means.” As a mother understands the meaning of the cry of her weak and helpless baby and tends to it, so does God understand the words of the Holy Spirit spoken on our behalf. He it is, who also stands before God’s council and his judgment throne in heaven to plead our case, course, and innocence. Though sin makes us helpless and weak before God, the Holy Spirit pleads for us and makes us acceptable to God because he communicates and reminds God of our weakness as the Psalmist humbly proclaims: “In weakness /sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51, 5)! Therefore, as the Spirit comes to aid us in our weakness, we too though weak, (and yet “stronger or better” than someone else), must help and intercede for those around us in their own weakness. This is what Wisdom means when He says that: “The virtuous man must be kindly to his fellow man!”
In the gospel Jesus used three parables to illustrate not only what “the kingdom of God is like”, but also how open minded and just the judgment of God is, and promises to be. These three parables illustrate how welcoming and accommodating God’s kingdom is. The parable of the weed and darnel however, of all these three parables, in one piece tells the whole story about the nature of God, His Kingdom and of course, His just judgment. God, “the owner” of the field, the darnel, and (of course by owning the land), the weed as well, did not succumb to the idea of pulling out the weed prematurely. The weed was given time to flourish alongside the darnel. We live in a world that comprises saints as well as sinners as St. Augustine of Hippo wrote in his book Civitate Dei, and both cohabit. It is the strength of our character and the combined help of the Holy Spirit that sustains, and will distinguish saints from sinners. God knew this before time began yet he did not create two separate worlds apart from each other for them. Rather, he allows all of us to cohabit. Each playing his/her own part towards the other. The saints, seeing the misery of sinners, learn their lessons and continue to struggle in order to remain virtuous. Sinners seeing the triumph of the saints equally struggle to take a leap out of their misery and sin. So, the parable of the weed and darnel portrays how God himself the just and merciful judge does kindly with all his creatures. “His judgment is true and just and salvation belongs to him,” and “he allows his to shine and his rain to fall on both the good and the evil.” This just judge knows what to do with each of us on his great harvest day
In allowing this “dangerous” and “mysterious” cohabitation, God gives us ample opportunity to repent, and prepare ourselves for the great day of harvest. As a seasoned and professional Gardner, he knows at a glimpse which is the weed and which, the darnel. He needs no “medicated glasses” to distinguish them because he is experienced in the business and knows those who are his and mature enough for harvest into his barns. So, just as what helps the darnel survive the stiff and harsh opposition, and competition for soil and space was its viability, will to survive and of course the Gardner’s ingenuity, so also, what will help us survive in this world of sin and weakness include: The strength of our character, dealing kindly with our fellow men and women, and of course, our constant and continuous reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit who is ever ready to intercede for us in groans that words cannot express, but only God the Father – the just and merciful judge, and his council understand. Let us then echo with the Palmist: “O Lord, you are good and forgiving!”
Peace be with you all!!