The Holy Spirit cast a wide net in choosing the human authors of the New Testament. Last year, we read the Gospel of St Luke at Sunday Mass. Although he may have traveled with St Paul for some time, he was basically an historian and wrote accordingly. Paul himself who we read today and indeed many Sundays of the year, was a missionary and his writings reflect these concerns. Matthew who is the Evangelist for this year’s readings in Ordinary Time is a Pastor and, in many ways, the most appropriate guide for this time and place.
He was the leader or at least a leader in a divided community in the first century middle east. The founding members of it were born Jews but in time Gentiles entered the community. There were tensions. All accepted Jesus as the means to salvation but some wanted to keep more Jewish attitudes and customs than others. As these are human beings there were no doubt other conflicts. The founders vs the newer members of the community and the rich vs the poor to name just two. Matthew acknowledges these divisions and his first and most important responsibility is to bring the people together.
This is a common theme in his Gospel, and we see it plainly today.
The agricultural references from last week are continued. Even city people or a provincial workman like Jesus would have had a basic understanding of farming and known that farmers sometimes used a weed called darnel to sabotage their neighbor’s wheat. It was almost indistinguishable from wheat at the early stages and could not be removed then without causing great damage.
Matthew knows his community well. Every group considers itself the wheat and the others the weeds and they are overly eager to pull out the weeds. Matthew uses this parable of Jesus to tell them that they do not know who will become a true disciple and who will not: only God does.
They will need: humility, patience and imagination to learn how to harvest.
The servants, potential disciples, are being told to be humble. They think they know what a disciple is. Indeed, we may assume that each group believes that the true follower of Jesus looks like them. But that that is for Jesus to decide and Matthew knows that it will be neither one side nor the other. Jesus begins with a different basic assumption. Our call is not to be the best version of ourselves but to be Jesus and we do not know how that will look. I often wonder what my 20-year-old self would make of the present me, and frankly I do not think I would have been much impressed with the younger and very much mini-me.
Growth reveals the benevolence of time. The reference today shows clearly the need for patience. A Christian is not born in a day, but forged through a lifetime. Human life is characterized by fits and starts and often wanderings and dead ends. How many of us would want to be judged during a middle-aged crisis? Sanctity is on God’s timetable not ours.
We need enough imagination to be surprised. Jesus does not ask our permission to reveal what he wants whenever he wants and is well called the God of surprises. The farmworker at least will know how wheat should look but the disciple cannot be as certain. God’s imagination is infinite, and we are always playing catch up. To continue the analogy, the farmworker might discover that there were many varieties of wheat, but the disciple will certainly discover that God is praised in diversity.
The need for these virtues is most obvious when there is strife or division, but they are always relevant. Before the pandemic St Charles Church was going along splendidly. I do not remember a time in my life when everything clicked so perfectly.
Then we went on lockdown and whatever the new normal will be it will be so different that I think we should be speaking not of a reopening but of a re-founding. At very least we know that the general understanding of the Eucharist is underdeveloped and that we need to have many more options for prayer.
We will need humility; I do not think that anyone can tell us what our Parish will look like this time next year. We should refrain from creating too many mental pictures and limit ourselves to the basic building blocks of Christian community: word, sacrament, charity. Without these there will be no harvest.
We will need patience. We will not see many familiar faces for any number of reasons. These will include people who we might expect would show leadership. Something will grow and we will learn hope, but it will take time.
Most of all we will need imagination. The clergy shortage was forcing change on us with or without a crisis, but it always seemed just over the horizon. The horizon is now behind us and we must work accordingly. This will include not only the inevitable and expected broadening of leadership in development and finance but as we have seen during the lockdown, lay leadership in prayer and worship.
Our aim must be not that St Charles resemble our memories of it however pleasant, but that it reflects God’s Kingdom however different.