St. John the Evangelist

St. John the Evangelist

Friday, 22 July 2011


July 17                                     NOTES FOR REFLECTION                                Pentecost 5

Texts:  Isaiah 44:6-8; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Theme:  The importance of discernment.   What is of God and what is not?  How can we know in the particular?  To whom should we listen – who are today's prophets speaking God's truth?

This is expressed in Isaiah in terms of monotheism versus polytheism; Yahweh versus pagan gods.  It addresses the constant temptation of Israelites (and us) to create or follow gods of our own choosing.  For St Paul, the distinction is between life in the Spirit and life in the flesh (sinful or human nature).  Our parable tells us that it isn't always clear which is which.

A Helpful Book.  The whole issue of discernment is at the heart of Ignatian spirituality.  Thomas Green, S.J. has written a book on this topic using today's parable to shape it.  The title is "Weeds Among the Wheat", and he offers these criteria to help us discern true prophets from false one:

·        Prophecies that are challenging are more likely to be true than ones that are pleasing to the ear:

·        Predictions must come true to be authentic:

·        Prophecies must be consistent with the teaching of the faith:

·        The lifestyle of the prophet should be carefully considered.  True prophets are not sinless, but false prophets will always be betrayed in the end by their sinful life:

·        What is the prophet's real motivation – the glory of God or his own glory?

·        Does the prophet have a genuine sense of calling?

Isaiah.  God's identity is fundamental.  It is expressed in relation to Israel.  God is Israel's "King and Redeemer".  God is the one who has "established my ancient people".

God is unique: "apart from me there is no God.  Who then is like me?"

God is revealed in history: "what has happened..."  But he also knows the future: "what is yet to come..."  Foreknowledge is the true test of divinity: "let [the false gods] foretell what will come".

Therefore, the people may trust in God: "do not tremble, do not be afraid."  Everything has happened, is happening, and will happen in accordance with God's purpose: "Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago?"

SO "you are my witnesses".  The two characteristics of a witness are personal knowledge/experience, and testimony to others.

God is the one and only "Rock".  This is a common metaphor in the psalms.  It speaks of stability, timelessness, etc.  It may also be a reference to the rock at Horeb struck by Moses to get water for the Israelites.  Is there some irony here?  False gods are those made out of material like wood and stone.  Yahweh, the living God is immaterial and yet like a Rock?

Links with Christian Teaching.

·        Christ is to be understood with Jewish salvation history – Luke 24:27:

·        Christ is unique – John 3:16:

·        We are his witnesses – Acts 1:8:

·        Christ is the "spiritual rock that accompanied Israel" – 1 Corinthians 10:4.

Taking it Personally.

·        How might you identify God in relation to yourself?  [God is my...?]

·        Looking back, how has God revealed himself in your personal history?

·        Do you have trust in God?  Why or why not?

·        What has been your personal experience of God and to whom have you witnessed about that?

Romans.  Isaiah emphasised God's relationship with his people: now St Paul's looks at our relationship with God.

God has done something completely new in Christ.  We are no longer separated from God, living "an animal" existence.  We are no longer under condemnation: we are renewed, the first-fruits of the new creation.  All this is through the Holy Spirit, whom we receive in baptism.

We are now "children of God".  We can address God as "Abba", as Jesus himself did, because through the Spirit we have been adopted by God.  So we have all the rights of a natural-born child, including the rights of inheritance.  We are  co-heirs with Christ!

And there is more!  What is already true of us (in part) will one day be true of the whole Creation: it, too, will be redeemed, and restored to a right relationship with its Creator. 

Therefore, we have grounds for hope for the redemption of our bodies (bodily resurrection).  In the meantime we wait patiently.

Taking It Personally.

·        Practice (in front of the bathroom mirror) introducing yourself as a child of God:

·        Re-read our baptismal liturgy: remind yourself that you have received the Holy Spirit, the Spirit through whom God raised Jesus to life:

·        Reflect on your own relationship with your parents.  What light does that throw on your relationship with God?

·        When you pray, address God as "Abba": how does that feel?

Matthew.  The Parable of the Weeds is unique to Matthew: this suggests that it was included to address a specific issue that had arisen in the community of faith in which this gospel was written.  It is also one of only two parables that come with a formal explanation: the other is the Parable of the Sower.  This suggests the people were having particular difficulty understanding these parables.

It is based in the real world, both literally and metaphorically.  Sow any crop and weeds will appear among it.  If Christ has "sown" the new Kingdom of Heaven on earth, how come evil keeps springing up all over the place?  The first response of the servants in the parable is to ask that very question: faced with the reality of evil, they wish to engage in theological speculation.

Only then do they consider what can be done about it.  Should they attempt to eradicate it?  No, for apparently practical reasons.  It would be too difficult to uproot the weeds without disturbing the wheat.

So it's about discernment.  We lack the ability to distinguish one from the other.  Despite the stereotypical approach to good people (like us) and criminals/sinners (like them), both groups look too alike to be sure which is which.

And there's another problem here.  Look closely at the explanation, and you'll find there is no reference to the servants.  Notice the change from "servants" in the present time and "harvesters" at the end of the age.  The "harvesters" are angels, but who are the servants?  At least in their own eyes, they seem to be "good seed" (people of the kingdom).  So perhaps the point is that in judging/condemning/uprooting those we consider "weeds", we risk harming ourselves.

That this interpretation might be on the right track is shown by the use of the Greek word "Aphete", for "Let".  It is the same word used for "forgive" in the Lord's Prayer, and also in the words of Christ on the Cross, "Father, forgive them..."

Taking it Personally.

·        Re-run the parable with yourself as the field:

·        What particular weeds are growing in your field?

·        How would you identify that which was sown by God and that which wasn't?:

·        Take these reflections into prayer.  What might you need to confess; and what might you wish to ask God for?

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