In today’s Old Testament reading we hear that God wants his people to learn that they must reform – and how does he want them to reform? God wants them to deal justly with their neighbor;
to no longer oppress the resident alien,
the orphan, or widow;
to stop shedding innocent blood,
or following strange gods,
Only then will God remain with them in this place. How often do we pray in these words: "God be with us." Can we hear God saying to us that if we want Him to be with us, we must change our behavior? We have to make good choices.
God goes on to incredulously ask if the people of Judah can actually come to stand before him even though they steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, and worship strange gods. We too, should ask if we dare stand before God in our sinfulness. It’s only because we know of God’s mercy and love that we can stand before our God.
The Gospel today is about the wheat and the weeds. This can be a pretty disturbing message. It is certainly much easier to think about God’s love and mercy than to think about God’s punishment. But of course, what we are really being encouraged to do here is to be the wheat. The message is not about how severe the punishment will be, but rather that God really wants us to make the right choices.
If you’ve ever raised a teenager, you can relate to God’s frustration in these two readings. Remember thinking (or saying), "How can I get through to this kid?" He doesn’t seem to hear a single thing I say. First, you may have tried saying something like, if we are going to have a good relationship, you need to straighten up. How can we support you when you act like this? Then perhaps you move on to asking in disbelief, how can you stand there looking so innocent when we both know you’ve done this or that. And finally, you try the carrot and the stick method. If you do better, you’ll get more privileges, rewards and lots of good things but if you don’t measure up, you’re grounded and you’ll lose all your privileges. You just wanted your child to make the right choices. And through all the worry, frustration and anger, you still managed to love your son or daughter. Does God do any less with us?
Mary Lou Butler is a long-time friend and partner in ministry to the Passionists in California.