To Persevere

We know that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ spoke to His disciples and followers through parables, and during the past few weeks during the celebration of Holy Mass we have been hearing many of these parables concerning the Kingdom of God.  Our Lord tells His followers that He speaks in parables in fulfillment of prophecy: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 13:35) But also know that Jesus tells His followers that, in part, parables are also told to reveal the truth to those who seek it, while obscuring it from the rest.  “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their hearts and turn – and I would heal them.” (Matthew 13:15)

So the first part of persevering that we encounter is, that in order to be able to open up to the teaching of our Lord given to us in these parables, we need to have open eyes, open ears and understanding hearts.  This may seem like it is an easy minimum requirement, but I really don’t think that it is.  There are very many ways in which we, even as those who believe in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, close ourselves off. 

Sometimes we believe that these things don’t really matter.  We say to ourselves, at least internally, that we went to catechism classes when we were young and learned all that is needed in religious life.  I am always struck by people who have this attitude, and I usually respond by mentioning that then religion is the only place where this is true.  It seems that no matter what sort of occupation one has today, there is always some sort of continuing education.  Many have requirements that a certain number of classes be taken every few years, and many more will offer opportunities to learn new skills and new ways of doing things just so that the individual can become a more efficient and better worker.  We can certainly see that for something so important as our religious and spiritual life, certainly some continuing education is exactly what would be needed and required to make us  more efficient and better Christians.

Others have their eyes and ears closed because they have a wrong view of what faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is all about.  Especially since the time of the enlightenment, there has arisen the concept of faith being solely about one’s mental assent.  We might ask a person if they are a Christian, and they might answer resoundingly “yes.”  But when we dig a little deeper, we might find that the extent of their being a Christian lies only in the mental assent of their belief in Jesus as the Son of God.  We might ask if they have faith, and the answer would be given saying, “Yes, I believe in Jesus Christ.” 

It is here that another encounter with perseverance takes place.  We are not called to only give mental assent to Jesus, but rather to dedicate our entire lives to Christ.  St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)  This goes far beyond just what we think and believe to offering ourselves and all that we are to God.  We must persevere beyond our thinking to giving all of our actions to Christ.  Likewise St. John, in his first letter, shows how the love of God must expand beyond our thinking to our entire life: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s good and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (1 John 3:17-18)  St. John is telling us that if the love of God abides in us, then we will be transformed, not just in our thinking, but in our entire way of life, to serve God and others in truth and action.

We also know that, unlike our mental assent, these good works in “truth and action” are not one time events.  We see that we cannot rely on the good deeds of the past as proof of our faith in Christ and our love of God.  The letter of St. James reminds us: “Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.  For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, in going away, immediately forget what they were like.  But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing.” (James 1:22-25) 

In this persevering as doers who act, we see the meaning behind the Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat given by our Lord concerning the Kingdom of Heaven from Matthew’s Gospel.  “The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.  And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?  Where, then, did these weeds come from?’  He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’  The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’  But he replied, ‘No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.  Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30)

In this parable we are called to persevere in growing in good and holy ways just as the wheat does until the time of harvest.  We see that the ultimate decisions regarding us won’t be made at any intermediate time. The householder tells the slaves not to go out into the field to remedy any imbalance, but rather to wait and let the wheat continue to grow and mature.  They will let the good wheat grow alongside the useless weeds, so that at the end, the time of harvest, the good wheat can be seen, recognized and gathered, while the useless weeds are thrown away.  And while some may see within the concept of the weeds being burned an image of the fires of hell, rather the driving concept should be that they are useless to the work of the householder, useless to the work of God for the Kingdom. 

In persevering, the wheat matures and therefore becomes a part of the storehouse of the householder.  Our good works in the world, our persevering in being “doers who act” will be a vital part of the building up of the Kingdom of God on earth.

We see in this that our entire Christian life and journey of faith is one that leads us into union with God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ, not just in what we believe, what we mentally assent to, but more importantly by the dedication of our entire life given to Almighty God.  In this persevering in works of faith and love, for God and for others, we grow closer and closer to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Again, as St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)  And in this renewing of our minds we grow to know the will of God and then to persevere in accomplishing it.

So my brothers and sisters, during this Ordinary Time when we reflect on these parables that have been given to us concerning the Kingdom of Heaven, let us strive to follow our Lord in every thought, word and action in our lives.  Let us persevere in doing good that we may be counted with the wheat and not the weeds.  Let us strive to live by the motto: “Whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31b)

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