Today’s Gospel comes from the section in St. Matthew where our Lord encounters controversies with the religious leaders of the day, is rejected by them, and ultimately leads to His cross. It raises a perennial question, why are there good and bad in the world? And He gives us this parable of the wheat and the weeds.
Later in the Gospel, the disciples ask Him to explain the parable. The Lord tells them that the sower is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed are the citizens of the kingdom, and the weeds are the followers of the evil one, all evildoers. The mystery is that the darnel, a certain type of weed, looks very much like wheat. In the parable, the sower tells the servants not to pull up the weeds, they may pull up the wheat as well. Only God knows the hearts of men and their deeds, and at the harvest, the end of the world, He will render judgment.
There is a sense in which this shows the inexorable quality of grace, of the mercy of God, and of hope. Prescinding from the metaphor of the parable, there is always the good hope that even the most hardened sinner will repent, reform, and return to the Lord. His grace and mercy are always at His hand.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, sheds light on the meaning of this Gospel in a theme he has returned to twice in his daily homilies [6/3/13; see also 11/11/13] during his pontificate of less than a year. He speaks of sinners, the corrupt, and saints. Pope Francis says we need not say too much about sinners, since we are all sinners, and we know this from within. But the corrupt go a step further. Speaking on the Parable of the Tenants, also in the Gospel of Matthew, he recalls that the land owner planted a vineyard, this is the world, and leased it to tenants. When he sent his servants to obtain from them his share of the grapes, they abused them, these are the prophets. Then he sent his son, and they killed him, this is our Lord.
Pope Francis speaks of these tenants as the corrupt. They want to take possession of the vineyard, they want to be the owners of the vineyard. They don’t need the master, they don’t need God. But because in their genetic code there is a relationship with God, and they cannot deny this, they make a special god, they themselves are god. He says the corrupt are very forgetful. They have forgotten the love with which God has made the vineyard, and with which He has made them. They have lost their relationship with God.
And the saints? They are those who worship God, who obey Him, who understand that they are sinners, and repent. He urges us to retain a sense of sin, not in general, but in the concrete, that, recognizing it, we may turn to God, and in this turning is the way of holiness.
How often we have seen the seen the corrupt. We need only to look at painful episodes in history when leaders have appeared on the world stage with a plan for the world, for the vineyard, promising justice and progress. But who decides what is just, and who decides what is progress? Their plans have often resulted in offense to human freedom and dignity, and to a great toll of human suffering. But they are gone, and we are here, and God is here, and the Gospel remains. In our own day, we need not look far to find those who disregard the divine and natural laws, who have forgotten that God is the master of the vineyard. Perhaps we have seen it in our corner of the world. Pope Francis says the movement from sinner to autonomy from God can be slow and insidious, as people forget that God is the owner of the vineyard, that we have a relationship with Him, that He is Lord of our lives.
It is especially instructive for us that the Holy Father speaks in terms of forgetfulness and remembrance. Because here, in this Mass, we find ourselves, a people of remembrance. At the Last Supper, the night before, in love, the Lord died on the cross for the salvation of all, He instituted the Mass, His Sacrifice offered on the altar for all time, and said, “Do this in memory of me.”
And this is our way of holiness, that we remember: that we are sinners, who with the grace of repentance and our good and often arduous efforts, turn to God, Who, in love, does His work of holiness in us; and who cherish with faith this Sacrifice of Christ, the one hope for all the world, not forgetting, but remembering, the surpassing love with which God has made the vineyard, and with which He has made us.