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Bishop's Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

July 23, 2023

[Sacred Hearts Church, Lanai City (Parish Visitation; Confirmation & First Communion)]

I think of Saul of Tarsus, who was such a dedicated religious man that he felt compelled to persecute the followers of a certain Jesus, who had been crucified and whose followers were spreading the “heretical” tale that he had risen from the dead.  He presided over the stoning of a deacon named Stephen, who actually prayed for the forgiveness of those who were stoning him.  When the risen Jesus appeared to Saul personally on the road to Damascus, perhaps it was that little seed of the witness of Stephen that helped him to finally see how much Jesus was alive and loved even him.  Saul was like a weed, trying to choke off the wheat of the Kingdom of God, but because God allowed that weed to grow along with the wheat, Paul had even greater credibility when he became one of the greatest preachers of the risen Lord Jesus.

I think of Abby Johnson, who for years worked for an abortion clinic, promoting abortion of babies as a good thing.  The pro-life protesters outside the clinic, while opposing what she was doing, were always kind and loving toward her.  When she finally saw the light of the horror of what she had been doing, the seed of love they had planted in her heart bore good fruit when she joined them.  Because she had been a weed, but was not violently torn up by those who were tending the wheat, she was able to be a much more effective witness in the pro-life cause.

Both of these situations could have turned out otherwise, and there were still many who persisted in persecuting the Church of Christ or in promoting abortion.  But at least for these two people, a tiny mustard seed of witness to Jesus bore great fruit for good.  Because they were not yanked up by those who intended to do good, even more good fruit was able to be borne, because the wheat had actually overtaken the weeds.

We live in a culture in which many weeds have been sown in the field of God’s Kingdom.  Instead of worshipping the true and living God, many worship themselves, making themselves gods, thinking they have ultimate say over all of reality, over life and death, over the nature of the human person, or over who is allowed to say what so that nothing offends them.  There are the weeds of those whose god is a greater monetary profit, and who think nothing of trampling on the rights of the poor, or even of enslaving them if that will bring them more money.  There are those weeds who jump on bandwagons, going along with whatever is popular in the culture, no matter how destructive it might ultimately be to those involved.

We are here to be the wheat that stands fast on the truth that God teaches us.  We have experienced the love of Christ and his power over sin and death, and he calls us to stand firm so that the good seed of the Kingdom of God can prevail over the weeds of the kingdom of darkness.  But standing so close to the weeds, we can easily be choked off by them, since they try very hard to drain the life out of us and silence us.  This is why we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, who like a dew from above waters us and strengthens us  so that we will not be overtaken by the weeds of the world.  This is why God calls us here Sunday after Sunday to be nourished with bread of the finest wheat, the Body and Blood of the risen Lord Jesus himself, who can give us a strength to endure whatever crosses the weeds may present to us.

This gathering for worship every Sunday is more important to the world that we could ever imagine.  Sometimes we may think it such a small thing if we do not come every Sunday, but the Lord reminds us of the tremendous impact that small things can have on us, whether for good or for ill.  He reminds us that even a mustard seed of faith, expressed and lived, even in the midst of the weeds of our own sins or the sins of others around us, can yield a rich harvest for the Lord.

The Lord had something very special in mind for Paul when he turned him from a choking weed into a nourishing stalk of wheat.  He had a special mission for Abby Johnson when he helped her see that she was acting like a weed, but was now called to protect life in the womb.  The Lord has something special in mind for every one of us, so that the good seeds of his kingdom may ultimately prevail.  He gives us the gift of himself to nourish and strengthen us to stand fast so that we can become bread for others.