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16th Sunday, Year A

Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can; found seldom in a woman but never in a man! I remember my mother reciting that to my father with a certain glee whenever he would get impatient with some job or other around the house. I got it, too, when appropriate.

Patience is one of God’s greatest attributes. It is a facet of his mercy and leniency, as the first reading puts it. You can see it in the way He has created the universe. Think of the “Big Bang” and the billions of years it has taken for intelligent life to evolve on earth. God is not in a hurry. He is a very skilled artist or sculptor. He takes time gradually to perfect His work of art. When it comes to our beautiful natural world, He has created us to help Him complete His work. He has given us intelligence and freedom to help Him do that, the two things that make us like God and differentiate us from the rest of the natural world. He is patient in following and directing the growth of each of us individually and of all of us as a race. He invites us to be patient as He is patient and to take our place in the great plan He has revealed to us in Jesus. It is the plan to bring the whole of creation together, to reconcile all opposing forces and agents, and to make us all one harmonious Body in Christ.

Another way of speaking of this plan is to talk of the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s what those parables refer to in the Gospel today. Jesus says, “the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who plants good seed.” Then He says, “the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed.” Finally, “the Kingdom of heaven is like a woman who takes yeast and mixes it with flower.” The three parables each describe a process. In the first, the process is the sowing of wheat and darnel and then waiting until harvest before sorting them out. In the second, the process is the growth from being a small seed to being the biggest shrub of them all. In the third, the process is the patient mixing of yeast and flower. 

In other words, the Kingdom of heaven is not something alien to our experience which will suddenly appear at the end of time. It is already present and at work in a growing seed form in the world, and has been since the very beginning of time. The Lord did not throw the Big Bang into existence as you would throw away a ball and then yourself go away. No. If I can put it this way, the Lord threw Himself into the Big Bang as He threw it into existence. He engaged Himself fully in it as if a sculptor could create his masterpiece from within the block of marble. St. Paul says that all things were created through Christ and for Christ, and all things hold together in Christ. While God is not His creation, He is in it. It is in Him. He is invested in it in Person (in Persons, if we refer to the Trinity). There is no life apart from Him, so He is, in a way known only to Himself, at work in and giving life to all that is.

And He is doing this why? It would be a brave or foolish man who would try to work out God’s motives. But, from the Bible, the answer is loud and clear: out of love. If you think of the power of love in your own life, and the things it can make you do, then take that to the infinite degree: that is the divine love. Love is God’s name. From within the burning furnace of the Love of the Trinity there burst forth the Big Bang. God’s love is ever creative and recreative. And as that first reading states so beautifully, it is precisely because of the strength and power of God that He is lenient and merciful, giving us time to repent. In Exodus, God describes himself as slow to anger and rich in mercy. God’s love is tender and lenient, attentive to the smallest and weakest, to the tiny details of the smallest microbe. Because He has thrown Himself into His creation, He is near to everything and everyone. God’s love is not distant or theoretical. It is close and concrete. But it has a purpose, it wants to draw us to a goal, to give utter and total fulfilment to everything that exists, especially to us. He wants to perfect and finish His masterpiece.

And so, this process of the growth of creation and of each of us in it will come to a crunch point. Jesus speaks of it as the harvest. Jesus is the divine Person who most threw Himself into creation, assuming a created humanity Himself. Jesus is the supreme expression of God’s love for the world and of God’s patience in bringing the world back to God. When Adam and Eve were too impatient to wait on God’s gift of life at the beginning of history, the Enemy gleefully sowed the weeds or darnel into creation. God’s response to man’s impatience was to be patient with man’s impatience. God gave us time and gave us in Jesus the possibility of recovering the gift of eternal life forfeited in Eden. Due to the death and resurrection of Jesus we can all again grow as wheat in the field of the world, some by the gift of faith working through love, and others without faith but who live a good life.

But we must keep the harvest time before our eyes. The world as we know it will one day be transformed. It will be judged as will all the things which, in the words of Jesus, “provoke offence” and “all the evildoers.” When Christ returns the wheat and the darnel of the entire length of human history will be revealed, just as in our own time they are often concealed. The wheat and darnel in our own hearts will also be revealed. Please God we will be purified of our darnel so as to be pure wheat for God. The Apostle Peter writes in one of his letters that we should consider “God’s patience as our opportunity to be saved.” If God does not act now, that is not permission to act as we please; rather, it is a grace given for us to act as pleases God. It is time given to us to grow patiently, daily, little by little. It involves suffering, yes; it involves renunciation of evil, yes; but it also involves that increasing longing for the Kingdom of heaven; it involves the joy of knowing that our suffering will give way to eternal joy; it involves confidence that the horrible things which are, and have been, done in our world will not escape the justice of God, and that those who have been victims of injustice will be vindicated; it involves a growing, quiet and strong awareness that Jesus is with me and in me, and that I am with and in Him. Christ among us is our hope of glory and the pledge of the Kingdom we are only experiencing now in seed form.

Patience, the ability to endure, perseverance, the one day at a time, the holding on with grim determination. These very basic “dogged” virtues will gain us our lives no matter what befalls us, because through them Jesus Himself is causing His Kingdom to come and grow within us. He will never let go of the hand that holds onto Him until He has us firmly by His side among those he describes in the Gospel as “the virtuous who will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.”

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