The message of mercy that is expressed in the first reading and psalm today is one that occurs often in the liturgy. That’s good, because it’s a message we all need to hear!
The Gospel brings us several messages, including one that we might not hear quite as often nowadays, but which is also important. Forgiveness and mercy only make sense if sin and punishment also exist. Salvation is only meaningful if there is something from which to be saved.
The parable of the weeds in the field is enlightening in this regard. It reminds us that there are two sowers: God and the devil. We can choose which kind of impulses and desires to follow in our daily lives. Some lead us to God, like good seed that provide spiritual nourishment and strength for ourselves and those around us. Others come from the devil and seek only the satisfaction of our worldly desires of pride and sensuality, like sterile seed that produces a showy plant, but chokes out others and dies and withers and is inedible. Our free decisions make us weeds or wheat.
What happens to us at the end of our lives depends on what we have made of ourselves. On judgment day, God’s ruling will be nothing more than recognition of the path we have chosen, with the appropriate recompense. If we have chosen the path of selfishness, we will be condemned to the suffering of Hell. If we have chosen the path of self-sacrificing love, we will go to Heaven, the kingdom of the Father.
Of course, practically no one chooses exclusively to do good or evil. There’s a good chance that when we die there will be a mixture of weeds and wheat in our souls. If we have truly repented for our sins when we die, and have done our best to avail ourselves of the sacraments, then our path to heaven will pass through a purification to burn away the weeds. As St Paul explains elsewhere, some people who have sinful works will be still be saved, “but as if by fire”. We don’t know what Purgatory is really like, but the fact that the New Testament repeatedly compares it to fire, similar to Hell, should inspire us to try to avoid it as much as possible. We can seek purification already in this life, not just by avoiding sin, but by offering the sufferings we face each day as reparation for our past offenses.
It is not easy sometimes to know exactly what is the right thing to do, nor do we always feel strong enough to do what we think we should. Many of our sins are more the result of weakness than of malice. On occasion, in particularly difficult situations, we don’t even know what to pray for. What we heard Paul say to the Romans today is the answer we need: “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”
It is also good for us to turn back to the first reading and psalm for their message of mercy and forgiveness: God knows our weakness, and will not reject us if we call upon Him with humility and contrition. Let us turn to Him today and ask Him to show us His kindness and mercy, that we may help His Church grow and thrive on earth, and be with Him “shining like the sun” in heaven for all eternity.