I WILL PRAISE YOUR NAME, O LORD, FOR ITS GOODNESS!

Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A
July 20, 2008

Readings: Wis 12:13, 16-19 / Rom 8:26-27 / Mt 13:24-43


We all had our own favorite teachers in the past. Or at the very least, we all have an image of a good teacher, mentor, leader, father, or superior – as the case may be. I am certain that for most of us, if not all, our image of a good parent, or teacher - or superior – for that matter, is one that espouses a healthy balance between two seemingly opposing poles as in gentleness, on the one hand, and firmness, on the other.

I have it on the authority of Carl Jung and other less known psychologists, that mental, psychological health is basically toeing the middle ground exactly between two polar opposites. The word they use for this is integration. It has to do with the practical ability to put together seemingly conflicting elements of both, and knowing when to emphasize one and downplay the other depending on the circumstances surrounding the person at any given time. Psychology calls it integration. The Bible has another word for it. Although it means a lot more than its psychological counterpart, wisdom captures some of the elements of the former. Scholastic philosophy would rather refer to the same concept as prudential judgment. Whatever term we use, what we would like to see in a leader, or parent, or teacher is that combination of a universe of attributes in perfect proportion, without that obvious swinging of the pendulum from one extreme to another. Another useful word for it is equanimity.

Current postmodern Tagalog slang would probably use what Pop Cola has popularized, of late: tamang tama ang timpla! Pag tama lang ang timpla, hindi labis, hindi kulang. (Everything fits just right; nothing is out of place).

I would like to think that the first reading today, not inappropriately taken from the book of Wisdom (12:13.16-19), partly refers to this healthy state. Obviously, from the foregoing, it probably would be more accurate for us to speak, not so much about a healthy state of balance, as a state of healthy tension, between two poles. Dynamic tension would be a more exact phrase. “But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us; for power, whenever you will, attends you. And you taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind…”

Those who are just must be kind!…What an indictment for all of us, who either are too just and demanding, or too lenient. Traditional moral theology makes much of the so-called sins by excess or by defect. Yes, most of the sins we commit either fall on our overzealous attachment to one principle, to the detriment of others, or our lackadaisical attitude towards each and everyone of them. We sin either by excessive attachment to something, or by being sorely deficient in it. The technocrat excels in systems and organization skills, but fails miserably in warmth and human relational skills. The person-oriented individual excels in warmth and diplomacy, but would bend and adjust rules and principles to cater to each and everyone’s whims and fancies. The former could be obsessed with rules. The latter may abhor all kinds of rules and systems. This reminds me of the statement, (Rudyard Kipling’s?) “East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet.”

This same attribute of mercy in dynamic tension with justice in God finds graphic illustration in the Gospel according to Matthew. More than just this, it also illustrates the long-suffering nature and utter patience of God. However, it would be a mistake to think of this patience of God as an act of weakness on his part. On the contrary, it shows his power, for all throughout that time, the householder was in control. He had the power to order the weeds to be pulled out, but he chose not to. This behavior stands in stark contrast with that of anxious – if, insistent – servants who early on, wanted to do the most logical thing: pull out the weeds. Again, here, it is not logic that triumphs but mercy.

This decision of the householder defies reason. It is downright unreasonable. Who among us who has ever tended a little garden would agree to this? Who among us would agree to be at the mercy not only of illogical, but downright harmful people out to pull a fast one on us? Who among us would allow the seeds of future big problems to grow alongside our well tended seedlings and saplings in the garden that is our life when you have the chance to weed them out early on?

I, for one, would probably agree with the anxious tenants. Who among us would not? Often with real or feigned self-righteous indignation we cry against so much injustice in the world. We complain about so many things. In our shortsightedness, we see so much potential evil and harm. And we even rail impatiently against God for allowing evil to happen in the world. How many times have we blamed God for all the problems that have befallen our nation and people? How many times have we joined the ranks of those who, deep inside, really call on God to destroy all evil doers? Blinded as much by self-righteousness as a distorted notion of God that stems from our own inability to integrate the dark and light aspects of our personhood – our incapability to live that healthy, dynamic tension of sin and grace inside us, we beg and pray God for certain things. But we really do not know what we are asking for. We really do not know what to pray for. Somewhere in the core of our being, our petitions leave a bitter aftertaste in the mouth. We beg God to banish all evil in the world. We beg Him to punish all those who wreak havoc in the lives of so many people. Armed with our perceived strengths of character, we look with disdain at all the rest who are not like us. The technocrat abhors the people pleaser. The people pleaser would rather do away with those who talk and live systems in organizations. How we loathe one another at times. Unable to acknowledge that our very strengths are also our own weaknesses, we fail to appreciate what precious lessons others can teach us. And so we fail to integrate and live – actually no longer two polar opposites, but really two faces of the same reality, points in the same continuum. At bottom, all of us really have the same strengths and weaknesses in varying degrees, acknowledged or unacknowledged, accepted or denied. It really does no good to the pot if it keeps on calling the kettle black.

Those of us who want the “big sinners” to die are missing the point of today’s liturgy. Those of us who ask some heads to roll all the time in this Church of his, that – undoubtedly – always needs reformation, do not seem to understand what the readings of today tell us. With all the clamor against sinful and bad priests and laity alike in the Church, with all the finger-pointing going on here and abroad, what with so much of that blaming culture being doled out – sadly – even by well-meaning preachers and pastors and journalists alike – one wonders whether it is the same batch of anxious, pestering and insistent tenants begging the household master to weed out all the undesirables in his garden all over again.

Away with bad priests! Away with bad bishops! Away with bad Christians and catholics! The good Lord has a sobering reminder for all of us today. We really do not know what we are asking for. For what we are asking for might well really refer to all of us. “Let him who has no sin, throw the first stone.” (Jn 8:7) “Learn from me, for I am meek and gentle of heart!” (Mt 11:29) Take note: today our response is: “Lord, you are good and forgiving.” “Though you are master of might, you judge with clemency.”

And as if this were not enough, St. Paul prophetically states: “we really do not know how to pray as we ought” – or what to pray for. “The Spirit,” he says, “comes to the aid of our weakness…The Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.”

Today’s liturgy is as much a sobering reminder about our human nature as steeped in sin and the reality of grace; the human condition of light and shadow, and the need for us to integrate the two, - as a reminder about the nature of God: just as He is merciful; good and forgiving, one who is master of might, yet judges with clemency. Faced with such a conviction, the sensitive heart can only utter together with the psalmist: I WILL PRAISE YOUR NAME, O LORD, FOR ITS GOODNESS!

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