The Sixteenth Sunday of the Year
20 July 2014
St. Michael’s Church, Ardaghey, 10.00am
My dear friends,
Ibn Saud, the first king of Saudi Arabia, was faced with a problem of judgement. A woman came to him demanding the death sentence for a man who had killed her husband. The man had been in a palm tree gathering dates when he had slipped and fallen, killing the woman’s husband beneath. Ibn Saud enquired if the fall had been intentional or if the two men had been enemies. The widow knew neither the man nor why he had fallen but, in accordance with the law, she demanded the blood price due to her.
“In what form do you wish the compensation?” Ibn Saud asked her. The widow demanded the head of the guilty party. The king tried to dissuade her, pointing out that she needed the money and that the execution of this man would benefit neither her nor her children. But the woman insisted, arguing that it was not right that the man who had killed her husband should to allowed to live in the community of good people. He should be rooted out instantly.
Ibn Saud told her: “It is your right in law to demand compensation, and it is also your right in law to ask for this man’s life. But it is my right in law to decree how he shall die. You shall take this man with you and he shall be tied to the foot of a palm tree. Then you yourself shall climb to the top of the tree and cast yourself down from that height. In that way you shall take his life as he took your husband’s.” The king paused for a moment. “Or perhaps,” he added, “you would prefer to take the blood money?” The widow took the money.
The demand for instant judgement, for rooting out those who have done harm in the community, is seriously challenged in the readings from Scripture in today’s Mass. The author of the Book of Wisdom appears to be looking for answers to questions like – Why does God allow the bad to flourish? Why is God so patient with the enemies of Israel? The book states clearly that God’s moderation is not an expression of weakness; his justice has its source in strength. God governs with great leniency. His mercy is offered to all; even to traditional enemies. He even gives the reason for it all:
“By acting thus you have taught a lesson to your people how virtuous man must be kindly to his fellow man, and you have given your children the good hope that after sin you will grant repentance.”
The people are asked to share in the same spirit of God and act with kindness to their fellow human beings. They too will then surely benefit from God’s forgiveness.
God’s patience with wrong doers appears again in the Gospel Reading. The kingdom of heaven is compared to a farmer who is confronted with a serious problem. His field is alive with wheat and a poisonous weed, darnel, which can only be distinguished from the wheat when the growth is advanced. The farmer’s servants want to weed out the darnel but the farmer tells them to leave it alone. He is worried that uprooting the weeds will endanger the wheat. He orders that no premature step be taken to separate them. So the wheat and the darnel are allowed to grow and only at the final harvest are they to be separated.
The message of the parable is one to which Jesus witnessed throughout his life. He reached out to all sorts of people, often accepting ridicule and hostile reaction in the process. He always made it his business to seek out to save and to heal the lost and the wounded. He was severely criticised for this but Jesus knew that all communities are a mixture of the good and the bad, the crooked and the cracked. It is not always easy to tell which is which. In the end Jesus himself was weeded out by the authorities and had his life taken.
The message of the parable continues to challenge believers to this day. It is not the place of the Church to support witch hunts or to organise purges. The Church is not God. As Christians, we do not have the authority to pronounce final judgement on anybody. The last word cannot be said about anyone until death and then it is God’s task, not ours, to say it. Paul underlines this very point when he tells the Church in Corinth: “There must be no passing of premature judgement. Leave that until the Lord comes” (1Cor. 4:5).
Paul, like Jesus, was aware that we can get it terribly wrong about people. There may be another angle, another perspective, another part of the story that we do not know. Paul himself got it terribly wrong about Jesus when he went about weeding out his followers. Paul himself changed from a weed to an apostle, even though some people thought that the last word had been said about him. But if the final judgement is precisely that – final – there is always hope that there can be changes made before then. And surely that opportunity should never be denied anyone, least of all by the followers of Jesus Christ.
+Liam S. MacDaid
20 July 2014