We live in difficult times for the Church, and from many sectors the very legitimate cry for reform goes up frequently. Beyond the sexual abuse scandal, there are also deep concerns regarding the uncertain trumpet of Catholic preaching, lukewarm and nominal Catholics, an overall lack of discipline among Catholics, and a lack of disciplining by the bishops and clergy of Catholics, clergy and lay, who cause scandal. In a way, the list is quite long and has been well discussed on this blog, which is, overall sympathetic to the need for reform, and greater zeal in the Church.
But today’s Gospel issues a caution in becoming over zealous to root out sin and sinners from the Church. It is the memorable Parable of the Wheat and Tares. The Lord’s cautionary rebuke to the zealous farmhands who wanted to tear out the weeds, was that they might harm the wheat as well. Wait, says the Lord, leave it to me. There will come a day of reckoning, but it is not now, wait till harvest.
This does not mean that we are never to take no notice of sin or never rebuke it. There is need for discipline in the Church and other texts call for it (see below). But this text is meant to balance a scouring that is too thorough, or a puritanical clean sweep that overrules God’s patience and seeks to turn the Church from a hospital for sinners to a germ-free (and hence people-free) zone.
We are going to need to depend on a lot of patience and mercy from God if any of us are going to stand a chance. Summoning the wrath of God to come on sinners, as some do, may well destroy them as well. We all have a journey to make from being an ain’t to being a saint.
So let’s allow this Gospel to give us some guidance in finding balance between the summons to reform and the summons to patience. The guidance comes in Four Steps.