sacrament of reconciliation
16th Sunday Ordinary Time
Deacon William Meehan
Preached: July 23, 2023
Why does God permit evil? This is one of life’s big questions and, quite honestly, one that makes our faith difficult. We see this question arise over and over, not only in our own time, but throughout the ages. It is the theme of the story of Job in the Old Testament, and it recurs in the New Testament. In this Gospel passage, Jesus speaks three parables to the crowd – all about the glorious kingdom of heaven. But later that day, the disciples come to him asking about just one parable: the parable of the good and bad seeds.
The other stories seem easy for them to understand, but they struggle with this one. They want to understand why it is that God would allow the evil seed to continue to grow. They are asking why God permits evil in the world.
Now, we need to be clear that God does not want evil things to happen. God is good – he is goodness itself. He certainly does not want us to suffer. However, what we can say is that God allows there to be evil. God created us with free will, which means that there is always the possibility to choose the bad instead of the good.
Throughout the history of the Church, Christians have contemplated the question of evil, trying to make sense of it. In the 5 th Century, St Isidore was reflecting upon this exact passage. And he too asked why it is that God could allow evil – why he would defer judgment. Simply put: why doesn’t God pull up the weeds now?
St Isidore’s response to this question is interesting. He says that what God is doing is giving us time for repentance. God does not want to condemn – he wants to save. We hear it said repeatedly throughout the Scriptures that “the Lord is good and forgiving, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” By waiting, by not pulling up the weeds now, God is giving us a chance, holding out hope, that we may all return to him and grow in faith.
We should all be grateful for this time of repentance. It is very easy to think that this passage is referring to those who are not Catholic, or to those who have consciously chosen to distance themselves from the Church. And it is true that God awaits their conversion. But this also applies to each one of us. We are sinners – we are not perfect. Our freedom means that we can choose to follow God; it also means that we can, and often do, place our own desires above his will.
Sin ruptures communion with God, and it harms our relationship with him. Because of sin and the temptation to sin, we find ourselves in a constant struggle of conversion. And this is why we should be grateful that God is patient. He is patient with us, and he gives us every opportunity to recognize our errors, to repent, and to strive to return to communion with him.
We all sin – we all make mistakes. But our God is the God of mercy – he is the God of forgiveness. And where do we experience God’s forgiveness more than in the truly beautiful sacrament of reconciliation?
The invitation to reconciliation with God was a major part of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In the sacrament of reconciliation, God calls us out of darkness into a marvellous light. Sin ruptures our relationship with God, and it is only God who can forgive our sins. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, we come before God, sorrowful for our sins, asking for his forgiveness.
It can be difficult to admit our mistakes. But when we make an examination of conscience, we do so guided by the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit helps us to understand our failings so that we know how we can change in the future, and improve our relationship with God.
In recognizing and naming our struggles, we are better able to overcome them. And then, we go the sacrament, feeling sorrow for the way our mistakes have harmed ourselves, others, and our relationship with God. In that moment, the priest stands as the sign and instrument of God’s merciful love.
When we hear the words “I absolve you from your sins” we know that we are truly forgiven. Our friendship with God is restored and there is an outpouring of God’s grace. We draw strength from the sacrament as we try to live good faith- filled lives.
Despite our failings, God remains open to us to turn back to him and to seek his forgiveness. And this hope for conversion is exactly why St Isidore says that God does not rashly judge us and condemn us for our sinfulness. But the parable of the weeds does not end with the evil weeds being permitted to grow. No, Jesus is clear that, at the final judgment, the weeds will be gathered up. We will be judged, and there will be justice.
However, we should avoid the temptation to focus exclusively on our own sinfulness and the sinfulness of others. The disciples fixate on the problem of evil so much that they neglect the goodness of the Lord. They forget that, although there is evil, God’s goodness is so much greater. They focus on the first parable, neglecting the others. But, these second and third parables are important. They remind us that, despite the weeds, despite the evil in our world, the kingdom of God will grow, and it will be glorious. The three parables work together.
So yes, the problem of evil in our world is one of the great theological questions. And while this is an important question, what we must also remember is that God has already conquered sin and evil through his Son, Jesus Christ. We can rejoice in the fact that despite evil, God can and will always bring about a greater good. His plan will be fulfilled and his kingdom will be glorious. Our God is a God of mercy abounding in love. Let us never hesitate to seek his mercy.