February 10, 2014
The Gospel for the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany in the Extraordinary Form is the parable of the man who sowed good seed in his field, but his enemy came in at night and sowed cockle seed over it. Now what kind of person would do such a thing? The farmer’s crop not only provided his living, others needed it for survival too, and future crops depended on the seed. The malicious act of a hateful heart would hurt many.
This is exactly what Satan is about. Create as much pain and suffering as possible in ways that have far reaching effects. Discourage all kindness. Choke the light of Christ out from the midst of God’s children. Seize their water and make them shrivel and die, all the while masquerading as one of the authentic stalks of grain until the very last minute when the reality of being a fake naturally emerges.
Cockle and wheat look alike when growing until the heads mature. At harvest the cockle is uprooted, bound and burned. The wheat is harvested and stored in the barn, protected from the elements, safe. We can see the obvious spiritual reference to the Last Judgment here, but let’s back up a bit and consider the time of the two growing along side each other. If we identify ourselves with the wheat, what is God showing us here of how we are to live in this very imperfect world? Why not just rip up the cockle wherever it appears so that it can’t hurt any of the wheat?
We see here the permissive will of God in action. He isn’t allowing the cockle to grow alongside the wheat because it is good, but to save the wheat. Does this not seem contradictory, allowing something evil to exist along side the good to save what is good? Yet this situation is little different from Judas staying close to Christ and the other Apostles, who knew Judas was a thief and must have scratched their heads wondering why Jesus didn’t kick him out of the group. Not until the traitorous kiss in the Garden of Olives, did Judas appear to all exactly what he was, and to the bitter end threw away the chance for mercy.
Jesus kept Judas near him and treated him with love. Clearly this is what Jesus expects of us. By allowing us to suffer the effects of those committed to evil, Christ shows us how to grow in charity, to learn to forgive, to return good for evil, to suffer injustice for the love of God, to show how to bear wrongs patiently. And while cockle can never be turned into wheat, those committed to evil ways can be converted to the Lord through kindness and good example if they so will.
It isn’t easy, of course, to navigate the entrenched evil about us. It’s quite exhausting to control our reactions to all the traps laid to ensnare us into the ways of Satan. We do no great thing by living in peace with people who are good, kind, and seeking God as we ought to be doing. We all prefer those who love peace just as we do. But, as Thomas à Kempis tells us in Book II, 3,2 of the Imitation of Christ,
it takes great virtue to live in peace with obstinate, perverse, intractable people whose ideas are not like our own.
The cockle in our lives challenges us to love perfectly, returning good for evil. We can live among the wicked without scorning them since they are God’s creation and Jesus died for them the same as He did for us, and without being influenced by them. If, as martyrs by blood or by full submission to the will of God, we are able to open the hearts of our persecutors who test us relentlessly, and make it possible by our actions for them to accept God’s grace, we have followed well in the footsteps of our Master. Deo gratias for the cockle in our lives and let us look forward to being carried into the barn.
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