You shall say to my people this word:
Let my eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease,
for the virgin daughter, my people, is struck down with a crushing blow,
with a very grievous wound.
If I go out into the field, look, those killed by the sword!
And if I enter the city, look, those sick with famine!
For both prophet and priest ply their trade throughout the land,
and have no knowledge.
Have you completely rejected Judah? Does our heart loathe Zion?
Why have you struck us down so that there is no healing for us?
We look for peace, but find no good;
for a time of healing, but there is terror instead.
We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord, the iniquity of our ancestors,
for we have sinned against you.
Do not spurn us, for your name's sake;
do not dishonour your glorious throne;
remember and do not break your covenant with us.
Can any idols of the nations bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers?
Is it not you, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for it is you who do all this.
Do not hold against us the guilt of our fathers;
may your compassion quickly come to us,
for we are brought very low. (R./)
Help us, O God our saviour,
because of the glory of your name;
Deliver us and pardon our sins
for your name's sake. (R./)
Let the groans of the prisoners come before you;
with your great power free those doomed to death.
Then we, your people and the sheep of your pasture,
will give thanks to you for ever and ever;
through all generations we will tell your praise. (R./)
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field." He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
It sounds like a rather gloomy message, with Jeremiah speaking about eyes running down with tears, and wondering if God has completely rejected his people; and then in the gospel Jesus speaks about the final judgement, including the punishment of the wicked like weeds being burned in a furnace. It is the kind of serious moral message that caused Ignatius of Loyola to reconsider his priorities in life, when he went on retreat to Manresa and opened his heart to a profound conversion.
But seen from another angle our readings have a comforting promise too: God does not forget his covenant even if we human beings so often fail in our moral response. And while Jeremiah fully confesses that he and his people have sinned, he still prays with confidence "do not forget your mercy towards us." Further, while Jesus does indeed speak about the unrepentant "weeds" being thrown into the fire, a warning against taking sin too lightly or neglect what God requires of us, the ultimate aim of the divine Harvester is to gather us safely into God's barn. The parable ends with the promise that "the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father."
Taken together, today's readings can have upon us the sobering effect of an old-style parish mission, reminding us of the eternal truths: death, judgement, heaven and hell. The way of the covenant is surely open to us; and God intends us each one of us to enjoy eternal life. But We may not be complacent about this and expect to be saved without our own willing cooperation. This surely is included in Jesus' crisp advice: let anyone with years listen!
In interpreting his parable, Jesus speaks of the final separation of the good and the evil at the end of time. The story itself had suggested that before that final separation at the end of time, good and evil will co-exist in the world and in the church, and within each one of us. The weeds and the wheat grow together. There will be a final separation but that will be done by God. It is not our place to make that separation in the here and now. We will invariably get it wrong, both in regard to ourselves and in regard to others. We will inevitably pull up wheat as well as weeds. A point emphasised by Pope Francis is that we should we slow to judge. It can be all too easy to see ourselves as wheat and identity various groups of other people as weeds. Saint Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians says to those who were judging him, 'With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court... It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore, do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes.' This morning's first reading reminds us that the Lord who will judge is a 'God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness.'