A Society of Sinners
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim, Sj (The Freeman) - July 22, 2017 - 4:00pm

A religion teacher opened his Bible and turned to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus proclaims, “You are the salt of the earth…  You are the light of the world.” Then he turned to today’s Gospel passage about the wheat and the weeds.

After reading it to the class, the teacher closed his Bible, sat down on the edge of the desk and said to the students, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could weed out the sinners in the Church? Wouldn’t it be great if we could remove from it all half-hearted Christians?  Think of the impact the Church would have  on the world if it had only committed people in it.  A million committed Christians would be a far better witness to Jesus than 25 million half-hearted Christians.”

Suddenly the students began to see his point.  They began to nod in agreement. But a girl in the back raised her hand and said, “I agree with what you say, teacher.  But who would decide who’s to be weeded out and who’s to stay?”

A number of hands went up.  One boy said, “I think almost anybody could decide that.  I can give you a list of names right now.”

I’m sure each one of us can come up with a long list of people we would like to be weeded out; this guy who borrowed money never intending to pay it back, that guy who comes to Mass and receives Holy Communion, while keeping two mistresses, this woman with a poison tongue, who slanders against innocent people, that person who beats up the house-helps, this one who cheats in business.  The list can go on and on.

This raises some questions:  Would it be good to weed out the Church from time to time? Would it be nice to have a regular spiritual purging?  Would it help everyone – even half-hearted Christians?  Would it shake people up and make them more committed?  Would it help the Church become what Jesus wanted it to be: the salt of the earth and light of the world?

Today’s parable of the weeds and the wheat may shed some light on these questions.  Let’s take a close look at it.

The weed referred to by Jesus was sometimes called “fool’s wheat” – a curse to Palestinian farmers.  In the early stages of its growth, it looks very much like the real wheat.  This was one of the reasons why the owner told his workers to wait until harvest time.  They might pull up the wrong ones thinking the real wheat was false wheat.

And it is right here that the parable sheds light on the question about weeding out the half-hearted Christians from the Church.  Just as the workers might mistake real wheat for false wheat, so we might mistake committed Christians for lukewarm Christians.  Even worse, we might condemn someone, who seemed to be half-hearted Christian, but has the potential to become a committed Christian.

Many of us at one time or another have been half-hearted Christians.  When I was in high school, I used escape from catechism classes.  Until my second year in college I was more interested in movie actors and actresses than in Jesus Christ or the Saints.

There would have been very good reasons for me to be weeded out.  But then you would have one less Jesuit priest today.  Is it good or bad – I don’t know.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was more interested in the courtly life of romance, knighthood, ladies, and chivalry than he was in spiritual life during his younger years.  Yet, God called him to conversion by hitting his leg with a cannon ball, which resulted to his founding the Jesuit Order.

If people like him were weeded out as half-hearted Christians before their conversion, the Church would be poorer by so many Saints.  The point is this: Judgment is not ours to pass.  Judgment should be passed only at the end of a person’s life and by God, not in the middle of it and by people.

That’s such an important point, it’s worth repeating.  Judgment should be passed only at the end of a person’s life and by God, not in the middle of it and by people.

St. Paul stresses this point in his First Letter to the Corinthians.  He writes: “Do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for he will bring to light what was hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts.” (I Corinthians 4:5)

Let us illustrate this further.  Years ago a magazine carried a moving story.  It concerned a retired missionary and his wife.  They spent their final days on a tiny farm outside a town.  The couple worked hard growing vegetables and chickens.  They couldn’t eat all they grew, so they sold their surplus to the townspeople.

After a while the townspeople began to gossip about how stingy the retired missionary and his wife were.  They weigh every vegetable and they count every egg twice – no room for bargaining!

Said one townsman, “They wouldn’t give you any extra tomato or an extra egg to save themselves.  I wonder what kind of missionaries they were.”

Eventually the missionary’s wife died.  Only then did the real truth came out.  Every centavo the couple earned from selling their vegetables and eggs went to two elderly widows, who depended solely on them for support.

This brings us back to the point St. Paul makes in his letter to the Christians of Corinth. It is the same point Jesus makes in his parable.  “Do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness.”

 

And so we have to be content to live in a world and a Church, where saints and sinners live side by side. A Church full of saints might be a nice Church, but it wouldn’t be Christ’s  Church. Someone put it this way: “The Church is not a gallery for exhibition of eminent Christians, but a school for the education of imperfect ones.”

Charles Clayton Morrison put it this way:  “The Church is a society of sinners.  It is the only society in the world in which the membership is based on the single qualification – that the candidate be unworthy of membership!”

Let’s end with a prayer:

Lord, help us realize

that the Church is not a showcase for Saints

but a shelter for sinners.

Prevent us from passing judgment on anyone,

especially members of our own family

and members of our parish.

Help us take to heart

Jesus’ words when he says:

“Stop judging and you will not be judged.

Stop condemning

and you will not be condemned.

Forgive and you will be forgiven.

Give and gifts will be given to you …

The measure with which you measure

will in return be measured out to you.”    Amen.

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