Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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An Enemy Has Done This

 The kingdom of heaven is to be compared to a man sowing good seed
in His own field, but while men were sleeping an enemy came
and sowed weeds among the wheat. 
Matthew 13:28

 

In the Parable of the Sower Our Lord explains the condition of the Church as it now is by the image of good seeds sown in a world in which each will find a different destiny.   Some will fall on stony ground, some among thorns. Some will fall on good ground and bear much fruit (Matthew 13:18–23).   Then in another parable immediately following  Jesus explains  the condition of the field itself, for along with the good seed there will appear  weeds that spring up to compete with the good seed for life and light.

          If one asks how this can be, Jesus’ answer is that God, sowing good seed, is not the only agent at work in the field of the world.   By His permission there exists another, an enemy, who sows weeds in God’s garden.   He is the second most important character in the Gospel story.  His proper name is Satan, the Adversary, and he is also called the devil, the serpent, the great dragon (Genesis 3:1, 14; Revelation 12:9, 17).  We know that he has been at work in the beginning for only his rebellion can explain the unspoken and undescribed catastrophe that must have taken place between the instant which God spoke His perfect world and the darkness, emptiness, and chaos we find in Genesis 1:2.   We meet him in the garden where he is the most subtle, most clever snake, ready to appeal with fatal effectiveness to the vanity and pride of Eve and the sentimental folly of Adam.

We meet Satan’s legions again when they dare to infect the human race with disorder by their perverse desire for the daughter of men (Genesis 6:1–5).   Although we know he may occasionally appear in propria persona to work his worst on men such as Job, Satan then goes underground until we meet him in the Judean wilderness, where he expects to achieve his final victory, for, after all, has he not had great success with humankind, encouraging them in rebellion, lust, greed, idolatry and murder. But there he is defeated by Him who is both Second Adam and Son of God.  Satan is then embattled, cast out of God’s presence, confined to the earth where he continually seeks the ruin of souls until time runs out and he is confined to the place of death, pain, and chaos that is his home.  Defeated by the woman who is the Second Eve, “the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus” (Revelation 12:7–17).    

But until that last day Satan in the desperation of his last defeat seeks endlessly to keep from God’s kingdom those souls the Lord seeks to save by his malicious attention to every human weakness and the careful cultivation of every tiny seed of rebellion.   He cannot coerce the human will but he can discourage with circumstances of disorder and difficulty, harass with disease, terrify with fears of failure and death.  And above all he can tempt every person with the desire for rebellious knowledge, pleasure, and power.   He is the Enemy who sows weeds in God’s garden.

              It is not pleasant to think of oneself as a weed in potentia, but this is the image Our Lord presents; the image the parable of the sower paints is one in which these will grow together until He returns.   Jesus solemnly warns against any attempt to purify His garden before the end, for the precipitate attempt to root out the weeds will damage the wheat.   Perhaps this reserve is because one who is a tare today may become wheat tomorrow.  Certainly it is because tare-removal undertaken by human hands will be destructive.  So we are to expect that in the Lord’s field, which is Christ’s kingdom of heaven in the world, there will be presence of evil.   These are the works of the enemy.   

We would expect to find weeds in the lost world, but in the parable of the wheat and weeds the field is the Kingdom of Heaven, the assembly of the elect, the Church, which penetrates and elevates the fallen world, and among whom one might hope for better things.   Yet in the  age of what is often described as enjoying a primitive purity what we find is drunkenness and gluttony at the love feast associated with the Eucharistic sacrifice (I Corinthians 11:21),  defection to another Gospel  (Galatians 1:8), tendentious misunderstanding of apostolic writings (II Peter 3:15–16), insubordinate men who teach in the Church for base gain (I Timothy 1:9–11), denial of the Resurrection (I Corinthians 15:12) and  of the  Incarnation (I John 4:2-3, II John 7).   We also find fidelity, martyrdom, and the nobility of the faith displayed in the mystery that is the Body of Christ and in a culture gentled by restraint and love.   But the enemy has enjoyed his successes.   How many he had encouraged to apostatize or die unrepentant we do not know.   He did promote great and destructive heresies whose names are not remembered although their effects linger.   Gradually, over time, he solidified a schism between the Latin West and the Greek East on theological grounds so delicate that the faithful must practice to remember them.    Sometimes he has corrupted the hearts of those at the center of the apostolic mission so that they became not fathers and servants but wolves, or perhaps become bored with God.  He inspired a great revolt that took northern Europe away from the Church of its birth and further shattered the unity of the Church.  Then, beginning with the Renaissance, he directed the interest of the world from God to self, inspired the separation of theology from philosophy, and created the thing called modernity, in which truth need not be denied because it cannot be known.   The devastation of souls is incalculable.   Finally, paradoxically, he convinced many that he does not exist and many others that he is indeed the prince.  

Christ said, “The enemy did this,” but in turning wheat into weeds the devil must, now as in the garden, have cooperation. He can discourage, he can tempt, but he cannot cause so that at every point it is important to remember that the ravaging of time cannot have been done without Satan, the enemy who sows tares among God’s wheat, but that in the events that court desolation among men the will of man is also not only involved but is the necessary condition.    The devil did not make me do it but he beguiled me and I did eat.    On one hand Jesus’ words offer a kind of comfort, or at least a partial explanation.   Many, very many, men live their lives puzzled by why their best efforts to do good end in frustration, by why great nations professing peace savage one another, by why learning may sometimes make men vicious and often makes persons better only accidentally.    A follower of Christ knows the cause; the enemy is at work sowing disorder and destruction, personal and natural.  He knows also that while Satan can corrupt he cannot destroy.

The grammar school picture of the soul poised between Satan and God the Holy Spirit has in recent decades been considered risible.   It has none the less the authority of Scripture and tradition and the experience of the saints. Saint Augustine’s metaphysical  resolution of the problem of evil in men and nature,  the great conception that evil is not built into creation, that evil is not a malicious infection but is a failure of due form in any being is a philosophical masterwork.    It does not, and was not, intended to deal with beings, active and virulent, devoid of the form of justice, and therefore demonic in nature, for every demon, beginning with the lord of demons, is the wreckage of a bright sprit, the first born of God.   This is Satan, ever restless, ever seeking opportunity to corrupt everything that is good.   

The Bible contains two kinds of warnings regarding our inevitable encounter with Satan’s minions.   The first is to remember that Satan cannot cause us to do evil; the devil cannot make Christians sin.   The Letter of the Apostle James is eloquent on the point that our fallen, sin-infested passions are the root of disorder in our souls that breaks out into moral failure, and, further, that it is in our power and is indeed our duty to resist Satan’s temptations.    Saint James wrote in an era  much like ours in which many, Manicheans and Gnostics,  saw human nature as it came from the hand of God as irresistibly afflicted with disordered desires, much as do contemporary Freudians and naturalists  of every kind.      But the apostle advises:   “Let no one say that he is tempted by God,”  that the evil within is put there by the  Creator, ”for God cannot be tempted with evil and He Himself tempts no one, but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires.  Then desire gives birth to sin, and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death,” death being Satan’s master project.   We can, not alone, never alone, but armed with God’s Holy Spirit, defeat Satan.  “Resist the devil and He will flee from you” (James 4:7). 

It is foolish, indeed disastrous, to deny or diminish the power Satan exercises until the end of days in this world.   Just as God has a providential plan to bring each of the elect into His presence, Satan works endlessly to exacerbate  weaknesses into damning  sins and to recruit mankind by provoking ultimate attachment to good things that are not God and His Christ.   The image of mankind with one ear open to God, the other to Satan amid the feckless naturalism of the seventies was pronounced Manichean and damaging to souls.  It is in fact an image that the Christian can never dare outgrow.  For the enemy is ever, ever working to make weeds of God’s good wheat, and he is never more effective than when in a sleeping world it is widely believed that he, his demons, his hell do not exist.  

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