16th Sunday of ordinary Time
The Son of Man will will dispatch his angels to collect from His kingdom all who draw others to apostasy and all evildoers. The angels will hurl them into the fiery furnace where they will wail and grind their teeth. Matt. 13:40-42
St. Matthew’s Gospel is sometimes referred to as the Gospel of the Kingdom because it mentions 51 times either the Kingdom of God or the Reign of God. The Kingdom is certainly identified with the Church established by Jesus, as the sign and source of His salvation. But the Church cannot be 100% identified with the final kingdom that Christ will determine as the eternal dwelling place of the saints. Indeed, Jesus says in today’s Gospel that He will use his angels to separate out some who belong to the present kingdom, the Church, and they will be cast into the fires of hell, and he specifies two groups, those who lead others out of the kingdom by apostasy and other evil doers who do not repent. Thus the final Kingdom of Heaven will not be identical in composition to the present initial kingdom of the Church. God tolerates evildoers in the Church, but He will not tolerate unrepentant evil doers in the final kingdom.
Moreover, it is also clear that Jesus taught that one must belong to His Church, His Kingdom on earth, which he built upon the rock of Peter, in some way or other if one is to belong to that final kingdom. The point of the parables of the Kingdom, the point of all his work with the Apostles, the point of His establishing the Church that will endure to the end of time, has to be that His salvation is found only in His Kingdom and nowhere else. This strikes many people in our day, as it has in all ages, as very narrow minded indeed. But if it is so narrow minded, which we Christians cannot accept, then that narrow mindedness has to be attributed to Christ Himself, and only derivatively to His Church.
You hear many people say today that the Catholic Church is just too rigid and narrow in it’s teaching that she is the one true Church, the kingdom of God on earth in it’s fullness, a doctrine taught by Vatican II as by many other Councils, and today it is repeated in the new Catechism (#816). But what bothers the pale and timid religious mind of our day is not simply that the Catholic Church would dare to claim to be the one true church and source of universal salvation, but that any religion, or any religious figure, including Jesus Christ Himself would claim to be the sole source of salvation. Indeed, the Church’s claim to be the true Church of Christ is really quite less demanding and disturbing to the non-believer than Jesus Christ’s own claim to be God, and that salvation come through Him alone, and through His Kingdom alone.
Did Jesus not say: “I am the way, and the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father, except through me” (Jn. 14:6); did he not say, “whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk. 10:16); did he not say, “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.” (Jn 6:53) die he not say, “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me” (Mt. 10:37). Did Jesus not say all these things and many more things that scandalize people in every age?
So let’s not be scandalized but rather try to really listen to the parables in today’s Gospel and try to grasp better the different aspects of the saving Kingdom of Jesus. First, the image of the mustard seed growing into a great tree is clearly an image of the growth of the Kingdom from the small seed sown in the Apostles which has grown into the huge tree today of 2.1 billion plus souls throughout the world.
Then we have the parable of the yeast which is a powerful image of the way the Church affects the world from within, enriching it’s institutions with it’s teachings and through it’s people who contribute to their society the values and beliefs of their faith.
But it is that first parable which is the most complex and perhaps disturbing, so much so that even the apostles themselves want it to be explained to them. This parable shows that the Church lives in the world and is inextricably part of this world, signified by the field, and that the Church is ever growing side by side with those who do not belong to the kingdom and those who once belonged but are now apostatized.
The words of Jesus are unqualified and uncompromising. He speaks of only two final possibilities, either one belongs or does not belong to the Kingdom. Moreover, people inside the kingdom and outside the kingdom are either evildoers or doers of good. Finally, there are only two possible and diverse destinies for all of us: either we will belong to Satan forever in Hell, or we will belong forever to the Father in Heaven. It is stark and uncompromising. It is for many shocking and scandalous.
By comparison, the Church, which is often criticized for it’s severity and narrowness, seems to be almost squishy at times when it comes to proclaiming the hard teachings of Jesus. Indeed, she has also been accused by purists of betraying the literal words of Jesus by softening their meaning. She is more like Moses who stood in the breach and begged God to moderate his anger and not destroy the Jews in the desert.
Perhaps that is why faithful Catholics love to call the Church Holy Mother Church, because, if anything her teachings may seem to give a softer presentation of Jesus’ doctrine than we find simply in the bare words He sometimes spoke in the Gospel. Of course, for Catholics this is never a betrayal or changing of Jesus’ teaching, for the Church carries the meaning of His teaching not only in Scripture, but in tradition. Moreover, Catholics believe that the teaching of the Church is actually Jesus teaching us what his words meant, just as he explained his parables to the Apostles.
The Church does teach that she is the sole source of God’s salvation in this world. However, she also teaches that mere visible membership in the Church does not assure one’s salvation. If one is an evildoer and rejects God’s laws, then being a Catholic will not get one to Heaven
On the other hand, the Church also teaches that many who through no fault of their own do not belong visibly to the Church, will be found in the end to have belonged to her in spirit, invisibly belonging to the visible Church, and these souls also will be welcomed into that final Kingdom. It’s all a great mystery how God works all this out, but it in no way means that there is no benefit in belonging visibly to the Church in this world, and it should never lead to religious indifference. An example may help.
There are people who in the third world who live as long as people in the first world with all our scientific health care advantage. There are many people in the third world who do not reject our health care, but who simply do not know about it, or do not have the opportunity to experience it’s full benefits. They may live as long, may even benefit partially from our health programs, but would you say there is no advantage in belonging to our health care system with all it’s advantages.
The same is true for the Kingdom. There are many who do not visibly belong to the Church who will be saved and will even enjoy some of her gifts of grace and truth in this world. But what Catholic, who truly understands our faith, would say therefore it makes no difference to have full access to truth and to God’s grace through the sacraments and the teaching of the Church? To think this would mean one does not really understand the Kingdom and it’s benefits in this world, why Christ gave us the Mass or sacraments, his Gospels and their doctrine, in the teaching of the Church. It’s only when one comes to realize the incomparable value of these gifts, the spiritual power they offer us in this world, that we really come to appreciate the incomparable blessing of our faith, the incomparable privilege it is to have access to this fulness of gifts that Christ bequeaths to His Church and her members.