Thursday, July 17, 2008

16th Sunday of the Year

Throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth

If we do not take care, we are likely to miss the point of the parables in today's Gospel.

Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth? It conjurs images of mediaeval portrayals of hell, Dante's inferno, hell fire sermons so popular once and so rare now. A misreading of the Gospel may lead us to understand faith to be based on fear and heaven to be a place where we go only to escape the terrors of hell.

Well, I don't doubt for a moment that Hell is very terrible and certainly to be avoided. I am not convinced that fear is always a bad thing. If fear in life prevents me from sticking my fingers in an electric socket I am sure that fear should also to deter me from serious sin.

But be that as it may, that is not the point of these three parables - the parable of the darnel (weeds), the mustard seed and the yeast. All images taken from daily life of the time, they speak very appropriately to our daily life, because they confront one question so important for us: how can be a Church in a society which shares little of our values, little of our concerns.

We live in a field surrounded by darnel, by weeds, by distractions, immorality, greed, indifference, cruelty. It is hard to live a Christian life in such an environment. This is how it is. An enemy has done this, and we must grow till the harvest comes.

Like the mustard seed, the tiniest of seeds, the Church may seem so small, the truth so neglected. We realise that far more people do not practice a faith than do, that many do not understand the basics of what we believe, that many find faith strange, or amusing or even objectionable. Yet this small seed grows into a bush which spreads everywhere and in which so many come and live and rest and gain comfort.

And like the yeast, we are mixed throughout the dough of society. Not separately, but thoroughly kneeded into families and workplaces and schools and communities. And we are called to leaven the lump, to raise the bread, to breathe fresh air into the dough and give it is life and its purpose. We are called, weak though we may often feel, to bring God to those who hardly know him.

These parables are not messages of punishment or of suffering or of fear. They are not warnings of Hell - they are challenges to us never to lose heart, never to fear, but to spread the word and place our trust in God.

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