16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Reflection: God works through us
By SISTER MARY McGLONE
“God will get you for that!”
That was one of my mom’s favorite retorts when we teased her as children. I would counter, saying that she called on God only because she couldn’t think of a better comeback. “Why make God do all your work?” (If we’re lucky, God will get us caught up in the divine trajectory.)
Our play had nothing to do with serious theological discussion, but it did reflect some worn-out concepts of karma or God’s rule in the world. A simplified explanation of the Hindu idea of karma says that good actions will bring a person a good future, and bad will bring bad. We know that Jesus tried to free people from that type of thinking. He taught that illness was not the result of sin (John 9) and that those who followed him would suffer as he did. So much for religion as an insurance policy.
Once we move beyond the idea of God as the fixer or avenger of evil, where are we to go? Today’s reading from the Book of Wisdom starts us off on a path toward a wonderful alternative.
“There is no god besides you, who have care for all.”
How different might the world be if we made that our credo? If that were the one thing we really believed? Wisdom’s author goes on with more descriptions of what God is like: Divine power generates justice, God’s strength engenders lenience and finally, “You gave your children good ground for hope.”
In “Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Listening for the Unheard Voice,” theologian James Alison suggests this summary of Jesus’ message: “I know that you find it very difficult to believe that God loves you … you are inclined to be frightened … you are inclined to run from death (and) engage in all sorts of forms of self-delusion and self-destruction. You find it difficult to imagine that things really will be well and that you are being held in being by someone who is utterly trustworthy. All this I know.”
Keeping that in the back of our mind, we might approach today’s readings as an invitation to a renewed sense of God and ourselves. After hearing Wisdom’s description of God’s immensity as the source of God’s loving kindness, we turn to Paul’s teaching about prayer.
Paul says, “We do not know how to pray as we ought.” Now there’s a comedown for all of us celebrating the liturgy and singing our hearts out! What are we supposed to think? Might Paul be reminding us that we tend to look toward God on our own terms (the “God will get you” mentality, for example) — and that there’s a better, truer way available to us?
Paul says, “The Spirit intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings.” Wow! That’s what prayer is supposed to be? Inexpressible groanings? That’s the same word Paul used in what we heard last week (July 16) as he talked about the longing of all creation to come into fulfillment. If Ignatius of Loyola were asked about this, he’d tell us that we can only get in touch with our deepest desires with the help of God’s Spirit and that our deepest desires ultimately lead us to union with God. No wonder we groan! It’s no small feat to reach that depth, to be in touch with the longings at the heart of our very being.
At this point, Jesus’ words in the Gospel come as a comforting assurance. Knowing that weeds grow in the midst of wheat, Jesus tells us not to worry about failures. God’s reign is like the mustard seed — a dynamic that can’t be stopped. It’s like yeast, an energy that permeates everything with which it comes into contact. Although we want to do good (and sometimes not), the future is not of our making. Everything — past, present and future — comes from the God who cares. God is beckoning us. The Spirit’s groaning within us promises that there is more coming than we could ever ask or imagine.
Today’s Liturgy of the Word invites us to wonder and believe in God’s care. Believing that the weeds will come to nothing, we can marvel at growing wheat; a sprouting mustard seed; the intoxication of yeast. Let us abandon contentment with limiting images of God and assumptions that we know how to pray. It’s time to let creation sweep us into awe at what is bigger, more beautiful, deeper, broader — more of everything than we can imagine.
The Spirit is waiting to come to our aid. To the extent that we allow it, God will do the work of drawing us into an ever-expanding future and we will reflect more and more of the God who loves us into growth. God will do the work — not for us, but with and within us.
(Wisdom 12:13, 16-19)
There is no god besides you who have the care of all,
that you need show you have not unjustly condemned.
For your might is the source of justice;
your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all.
For you show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved;
and in those who know you, you rebuke temerity.
But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency,
and with much lenience you govern us;
for power, whenever you will, attends you.
And you taught your people, by these deeds,
that those who are just must be kind;
and you gave your children good ground for hope
that you would permit repentance for their sins.
(Psalm 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16)
Brothers and sisters:
The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God’s will.
Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened
to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.
When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.
The slaves of the householder came to him and said,
‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?
Where have the weeds come from?’
He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’
His slaves said to him,
‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds
you might uproot the wheat along with them.
Let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters,
“First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning;
but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
He proposed another parable to them.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed
that a person took and sowed in a field.
It is the smallest of all the seeds,
yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.
It becomes a large bush,
and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”
He spoke to them another parable.
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast
that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour
until the whole batch was leavened.”
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables.
He spoke to them only in parables,
to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:
I will open my mouth in parables,
I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation
of the world.
Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house.
His disciples approached him and said,
“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,
the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom.
The weeds are the children of the evil one,
and the enemy who sows them is the devil.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.
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.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”