I've Lived a Good Life; Why is God Letting This Happen to Me?
Lessons from cycle A of the Dominica, according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite:
Wisdom 12: 13, 16-19.
Psalm 86: 5-6, 9-10, 15-16.
Romans 8: 26-27.
Matthew 13: 24-43.
The Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time.
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2:51 PM 7/20/2014 — Today's Gospel lesson presents two of what I like to call our Lord's “idiot” parables. I call them that because, after our Lord tells the parable, he goes on to explain it to his disciples, leaving us with little to do by way of trying to figure it out.
But in the case of the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds—or, as the more traditional translations put it, the Wheat and the Tares—knowing the meaning of the parable is only the beginning of the problem for us; because of the society in which we live, it's message is not one we are likely to accept without struggle. We live in the midst of a Protestant society; and, while none of us here would be willing to admit it, our understanding of salvation and grace is colored by a Protestant ethic that permeates all of society. Those of you who attend weekday Mass here at the Shrine will remember this: the Protestant preachers you see on TV are never dressed shabbily; they're always dressed to the nines, because it is a part of their theological system to believe that good must be rewarded and evil must be punished, and that this must happen now. They make a point of showing off their prosperity because that proves that they are blessed by God. And if you don't believe that you've been infected by this idea, just ask yourself if you've ever thought that you were being treated unfairly by God. Ask yourself if you've ever been angry with God because someone you loved was taken from you. Ask yourself if you've ever been indignant that evil people seem to have everything they want while good people are left to suffer. How many times have you heard—or perhaps even said to yourself—“I've lived a good life; why is God letting this happen to me?”
The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares is so simple—even without our Lord's explanation it's simple—that it seems almost incredulous that the disciples feel they have to ask him about it. The good and the bad live on this earth side by side; they aren't sorted out until the final judgment. And as for rewarding good deeds and punishing evil, that, too, is left for the end of all things; it doesn't happen now. And you can see how difficult a concept this is for us, raised as we are with such a strict sense of justice and reciprocity. When someone famous is accused of a crime, and the trial is aired on television, and the person is acquitted even though we were all convinced of his guilt, we become angry. Why are we angry? Because we feel that justice has not been done. Whenever a part of our country is hit by some natural disaster or catastrophic event that causes loss of life, what's the first thing everyone wants to know? “Who can we blame? Who should have known? Who can we make accountable?” And we feel that way because evil must be punished. We can't stand the idea of someone not getting their comeuppance.
But what's most disturbing about this attitude that all justice and all recompense must be in the here and now is that it is rooted, I believe, in a lack of faith. We try to go through the motions of believing our Lord: we confess our sins, we grieve for the wrong we've done to others, we offer prayers and sacrifices for the outrages committed against our Lord, our Blessed Mother, our Church; but, when push comes to shove, and some tragedy comes our way, we just can't help ourselves, and find ourselves asking that perennial question of doubt: “I've lived a good life; why is God letting this happen to me?” The answer, of course, is in the parable; but, we don't want to hear it, and so we block it out of our minds as if our Lord doesn't really mean what he says. In a few moments, when we recite the Creed, we'll all say together, “...I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,” and we'll say it with all sincerity. But saying it and believing it are two different things, and living it is something different altogether.
To live in the midst of this world without being a part of it; to pace out the course of our lives as pilgrims whose journey does not end except in heaven: that is the faith that Jesus challenges us to embrace. There isn't one of us here who hasn't failed to embrace that faith at some point in his or her life. But, thanks be to God, we have a Savior who understand our human condition because he became one. He took our sins upon himself, and offered himself as a sacrifice on the altar of the Cross, a sacrifice which we will have reproduced for us upon this altar, and the broken Body of our God will again be offered to us to adore and receive in Holy Communion. That is a great grace, and one that can overcome all our lack of faith, if we will only dispose ourselves to allow it. I can't help but believe that this was what God was telling us when he inspired the words of the Book of Wisdom from our first reading today:
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; and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins (12:17-19).