Matthew 13:24-43 (16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, year A)
Have you ever seen the TV show Mythbusters? This program tests the validity of myths, rumors and urban legends. Today I thought we could have our own episode of Mythbusters: Catholic Edition. In the Gospel, Jesus gives us three parables, all describing what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Quite simply, the Kingdom of Heaven is a kingdom in which God is in charge. It is a kingdom found in our hearts and in the world, particularly in the Church. It is a kingdom that is really here, but hasn't yet been brought to completion. Each of Jesus’ three parables about the Kingdom of Heaven dispel one of three common myths or misconceptions that people have about the Church and what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Myth 1: Evil in the Church disproves its Divine origin
With the terrible sexual abuse crisis in the Church in recent years, we are all too aware that there is sin in the Church. Other examples can be pointed to: crusades, inquisitions and certain Popes who were preoccupied with being worldly kings rather than spiritual leaders. Many wonder, how can an organization that has done this evil possibly be founded by Jesus? How can it possibly be part of the Kingdom of Heaven? Some use the sins of the Church as an excuse for not wanting anything to do with it. The parable of the weeds and the wheat helps us understand that the Church, even with all its flawed members, was founded by Jesus. In fact, though evil in the Church is a terrible thing, the fact that it is present should not surprise us. In the Church, there have always been members who have lived extraordinarily good lives and have been a remarkable force for good in the world. At the same time, there have always been members, sometimes at the highest levels, who have sinned and made terrible mistakes. There will always be weeds and wheat in the Church because of our free will. Jesus wants all members of the Church to be holy and continue His mission. He has given us all the tools necessary to do this. At the same time, Jesus does not force us to follow Him. Why does God not simply crush out the evil in the Church? God allows both the good and the bad to grow so that those who do evil are given time to repent and change. That there is sin in the Church should not prevent us from participating in the life of the Church. As my friend is fond of repeating, “saying you don’t want to go to Church because it is full of sinners is as ridiculous as saying I don’t want to go to the gym because it is full of fat people”. There will always be weed and wheat in the Church because the Church is here to help sinners become saints.
Myth 2: I am too small to make any positive change in the world
When we see all the wars, injustices, broken relationships and difficulties in the world, it can be all too easy to want to give up. We can think that our small contribution cannot possibly do anything to build up the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. Jesus’ parable about the mustard seed shows us how wrong this line of thinking is. As a modern day equivalent to the mustard seed analogy, we can consider the phenomenon of viral internet videos. Take, for example, the music video Gangnam Style by the Korean musician PSY. Before this video came out, hardly anyone had even heard of PSY outside of Korea. When the video was released, however, people watched it and shared it with their friends, who shared it with their friends and so on until the video went viral. Now the video has been viewed over 2 billion times on YouTube. Today it would be difficult to find any young person in Canada who did not know the dance invented by PSY. Viral videos and the parable of the mustard seed demonstrate that regardless of how insignificant you feel, you can make an impact. Our action to continue the mission of Jesus, though small, can spread to have an effect that we never dreamed possible. Consider the situation in which one person chooses two people to disciple for two years. This means that for two years one person helps two other people come to know Jesus better and become more involved in the Church. At the end of these two years, each of the three would then find two others to disciple and so on. In this scenario, growth of disciples would be as follows. After 2 years there would be 3. After 4 years there would be 9. After 10 years there would be 243. After 20 years there would be 59048. After 30 years there would be over 14 million. Talk about viral growth! Our efforts to spread the Kingdom of Heaven are never insignificant.
Myth 3: Faith is a private thing with no place in the public sphere
We have all probably heard of the expression “separation between Church and state”. Though people interpret this expression in different ways, many promote the idea that though you may be Catholic, these beliefs are private and should not affect the way that you do your job as a lawyer, a doctor or a politician. Recently this opinion has gained prominence in Canada. For example, some political parties are prohibit their members from following their conscience and voting pro-life. Or we can look at the attempts made to prevent Trinity Western University from opening a Law School. Many Catholics have bought into the myth that faith should be a private thing kept out of the public sphere. Outside of the hour they spend at Mass on Sunday, the fact that they are Catholic seems to have little impact on the way they live. Their friends and coworkers may not even know that they are Catholic. The parable of the yeast teaches us that our faith in Jesus is not a private thing that is to be kept in a separate bubble from the rest of our lives. Our faith in Jesus is like yeast that works to change every part of our lives. We should relate to our friends differently because we follow Jesus. The fact that we are Catholic should change the way that we work. That we are Christian should have an impact on the movies we watch, where we shop and the books that we read. People should know that we are Catholic by the way that we talk and act. If not, we are probably doing something wrong. Faith is not merely a private thing.
Dispelling myths is important because when we believe in them, our view of reality becomes skewed. Our ability to interact in the world is a positive way is severely compromised. The same is true for the three myths we have discussed: 1) evil in the Church disproves its Divine origin, 2) I am too small to make any change in the world and 3) faith is a private thing with no place in the public sphere. “Bust” these myths in your faith life today so that your effectiveness as a disciple of Jesus Christ is not compromised.