July 23, 2017 — Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Within the closing lines of the First Reading from the Book of Wisdom is the statement “…you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.” These words are addressed to God. The Book of Wisdom gains its name because it speaks of the excellence of Wisdom, how to obtain it, and the joyous fruits wisdom produces. Although the author is somewhat uncertain, it is often attributed to Solomon. In addition to its acknowledgment of the value of wisdom, the book contains many prophecies of the coming of Christ, His passion, His resurrection, and other mysteries of our faith.
The word “hope” appears more than 130 times in most recognized Catholic Bible translations. In most cases what is translated as “hope” is originally the word elpis (ἐλπίς) in Greek. This is significant because in today’s world we tend to use “hope” as sort of an unsure optimism. We may want or expect something (we hope for it) but there is no real assurance that it will happen. However elpis meant an expectation. It was a confident expression of a certainty. It was a trust and a belief that something would indeed occur. Therefore, when we say “My hope is in the Lord,” that is not a dream; it is a reality.
The First Reading from Wisdom speaks of God’s love, His compassion and mercy. It is in effect another reason for hope to be alive in our hearts, the kind of hope that is indeed certain of fulfillment.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, our Second Reading, Paul also gives assurance to us as to why we must have hope. We have indicated previously that Paul’s letter to the Romans is the longest of his letters. It is in many ways more theological than other letters. When Paul wrote it, he had never been in Rome, but his intent was to go there (which he did) and the letter was a preparation for that visit. He wanted to be sure the Romans understood what our faith was all about, and what he believed and professed.
Today’s reading is not lengthy, but it, as is the case with much of Paul’s writings, is filled with meaning for us. In fact, it is closely connected to the concept of hope once again. Throughout the Letter to the Romans Paul speaks of and explains salvation, the exact salvation in which we place our hope. In today’s short passage we might perceive correctly that prayer should be an important part of our sense of stewardship and of our daily lives.
Paul assures us nonetheless that the important thing for us to do is to pray; God takes it from there. No matter how effectively or eloquently we pray, in doing it the Holy Spirit can see into our hearts and perceive our needs. (“…the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.”) The key for us is to pray, and trust that God can see our prayers. It is from that we can also achieve hope.
For a few weeks now our Gospels from St. Matthew have been filled with parables. Jesus was living in an agrarian society — that is, a world in which agriculture was somewhat universal and widely understood. That is why so many of His teachings, His parables, have a farming base. His parables in today’s Gospel relate to weeds existing next to and among healthy and necessary crops like wheat. Even though much of our own society may not grasp farming, we can very much relate to the Lord’s explanations.
When asked by His disciples to explain the meaning, the Lord says in effect that the field in which the crops are placed is the world; the crop can come from good seeds (believers) or bad seeds (those who are non believers and evil). He also makes it clear though that it is not our role to identify and “weed out” those who are non believers. God will do that. At the same time it is not just enough for us to belong to a parish, a community. Our role, our calling, is to love and to serve as good stewards, active participants. God will take care of the rest, and that is our reason for hope.