Summary: God presently relents in destroying evil to permit more people time to turn to Him and to not harm those who already have accepted Him.
Back in early February, I was feeling…unusual. Something wasn’t quite right. I made an appointment to see the doctor and, without undue scrutiny he declared that I had a hernia. Having received the diagnosis…it didn’t go away. I had to make an appointment with another doctor, a surgeon, for him to assess the problem and schedule surgery. So on March 8, I met with the surgeon and he said that I had a hernia, a large one. So we scheduled the surgery. But that didn’t make the problem go away. On April 6, I had surgery to repair the hernia. The problem was resolved, but I didn’t feel very good. In fact, I felt worse after the surgery than I did before it. It was a week before I began to be glad that I had it fixed. Even now, three months later, I still have the occasional ache from the incision, particularly when one of my bony-tailed nephews sits in my lap to read or play a game.
What’s this have to do with Christian life? Well, knowing what my problem was didn’t resolve it. Knowing the solution didn’t resolve it. The actual repair of the problem, although it did resolve the defect, wasn’t the complete healing. It was a combination of cure plus patient hope that is bringing about my restoration. In our lives, the combination of cure (baptism) and patient hope (living our salvation) brings about our restoration.
In today’s Gospel, we learn that the kingdom of heaven is like a field planted with good seed in which an enemy also planted weeds. The kingdom, although present, isn’t yet perfected; it still is growing in this world, like a mustard seed grows into a plant or a little yeast leavens the dough. And in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, we have heard that we groan and wait for our adoption as sons—not that the promise is at all uncertain, but we are not yet perfected.
We are living in the “latter days,” the period after the “former things”—prior to the first coming of Jesus Christ—, but before the “last day,” the “day of the Lord”—the second coming of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Who’s feeling old this morning? Well, let me tell you some good news: we’re all tweens. We are all living between the innocence of youth and the strength of maturity, between the proclamation of the Gospel and the Day of Judgment.
During this time, the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one live together, right next to one another. Where is this? What is the field that our Lord is referring to? First, it’s not the Church. As much as anyone, I tend to think that this parable is talking about the Church, that both redeemed and reprobate coexist within the Church until the end of the age; but that is incorrect. The field, as Jesus tells us in verse 38, is the world. Jesus tells us that we will, we should expect to, live alongside (even right in the middle of) the sons of the evil one. The Lord is not surprised by this situation. The servants came to tell the master that there were weeds in the midst of the wheat; and so our Lord is fully informed that there are evildoers surrounding the sons of the kingdom. Yet He Himself has decreed that the evildoers not be torn out just yet, but be allowed to remain until the end of the age.
This brings up a difficult question, perhaps the most difficult one. If God is good—not just that He has some good or does good, but that He is goodness itself, the highest and most complete good—if God is good, then why does evil exist? “If the Kingdom of Heaven has arrived, why hasn’t it triumphed more overtly and visibly?’ (NAC). Why doesn’t the kingdom at once, immediately, destroy all that is opposed to God?
Well, ultimately the existence of evil is a mystery, but God has provided some answers in His divine revelation, Sacred Scripture. Jesus tells us, “while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them” (Mt. 13:29). In His love for the saved, God relents in destroying those condemned, so that we might grow together to the point where we—the saved—are mature and can bear the removal of all that causes sin and those who do evil. St. Peter wrote, “God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pe. 3:9). Not only does God care for the saved cause forbearance, but His cares for the lost as well. As Ezekiel prophesied, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn away from their ways and live?” (Ez. 18:23). As often as I ask God about this, He throws my questions back into my lap, for do I not come before this altar every week begging forgiveness for my own sins and offenses? “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip” (Dt. 32:35).