The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
“Let both of them grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:30).
We are saved within community. Christian faith is always a shared faith. The Gospel of Jesus Christ will take root in our lives only when we are aspiring to hear one another, forgive one another, and love one another in our local parish.
‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat…The slaves said to [the Master], “Do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied…‘Let both of them grow together until the harvest’” (Matthew 13:24-34).
There is a beautiful, little monastery in Cañones, New Mexico, that I visited during college. It is a little over an hour from Santa Fe along highway 285. The road stretches straight across desert plains and adobe villages, and takes a sharp turn just at the end. I always remembered that turn because it was marked by a large, fluorescent sign at a bar: “Saints and Sinners.” I can think of no better way to describe the Church.
Flip through a history book and look at Christendom in any given century. What do you find? Charity and greed, purity and corruption, beauty and ugliness, peace and violence — does this do it justice? You do not need to look so far. The good, the bad, and the ugly are right here at home. Each of us carries baggage in our hearts. Each of us has virtue and vice, talents and quirks, and every other ingredient for a fun time. Is this what Christ had in mind when he founded the Church? Yes. He tells us this in his parable today.
God plants good seeds. The devil sows bad seeds. The wheat and the tares need to grow up together. It is natural to wonder why God puts up with it. The workers in the parable wondered too. They wanted to pull out the weeds. The master stopped them. “Don’t pull them up,” he said. “Let the good and the bad grow together.” The dysfunction in the Church is exactly what it needs to thrive. The struggles with your neighbors is exactly what you need to grow.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
We are saved within community.
Isolation and individualism are a plague in society today. We are drowning for lack of community. A social scientist published a book in 2012 with the title, “Alone Together,” where she observes the impact of modern technology on relationships. Online forums, facebook, and twitter have made communication faster and easier than ever in history. Yet, the increase of social networking is simultaneously connected with isolation and depression. People are spending more and more time together (behind screens) and are more and more alone. Efforts to ward of disease have further created a culture of isolationism. Rapidly developing AI technologies, robot caregivers, and the neurolink are exacerbating this problem.
All this started long before computers. With every time-saving device in the twentieth-century, from the washing machine to the microwave, people have spent less time together. Cooking, washing clothes, harvesting food, and the basics of life used to be communal events. They are no longer. There is a little book called Jaber Crow which summarizes this nicely. A barber tells his story growing up in rural Kentucky from the 1920s until the 1980s. One summer evening, he strolls along Main Street reminiscing. As a child, the whole town was out at this hour, sitting on their front porches or visiting one another. No one was out anymore. All one could see was a flickering blue light behind shut windows.
I do not say this to be a downer. Nor is this romantic Luddism. There have always been trials in the world and we have much to be grateful for right now. But we have to see the problem. We have to recognize our challenge. Being community does not come naturally to us, but it is our job. It is our highest priority as Christians, to learn to love.
Why do we come to church on Sunday? Is it to get a spiritual high? Is it to get a little peace and to worship God? Are we here to learn to listen and to forgive? Are we here to encourage and care for one another? God calls us to be the Church to serve Him and to serve the brethren, to love him, and to love the person worshiping at your side. This is what word ‘Mass’ means — we sing it every day: “Ite Missa Est” — with God, the saints and angels, the priest and the janitor, the good, the bad, and the ugly, we are come together to learn to be community.
Our Epistle today sums up our work exactly.
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:12-17).
We are saved within community. Our witness to the world is our love as community. God places his children in a field of wheat and tares, and in that struggle works out our salvation. What remains for us to do as community: be faithful.