Charlie Gard at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. Photo courtesy of the family of Charlie Gard via Facebook

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I’m sure by now you have heard of little Charlie Gard, born in London a year ago, who suffers from a very rare and devastating illness called mitochondrial depletion syndrome. There is presently no known cure or treatment available. The child’s doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London were convinced they had done all that they could, and were prepared to allow Charlie to die. His parents, however, were convinced otherwise. So the hospital petitioned the high court for permission to turn his ventilator off. The parents argued they have the natural right to speak in their child’s best interest, and wanted to explore every possible option to give him a chance to live. The hospital argued back that untested human treatments with low success rates in lab mice offered false hope and would unnecessarily prolong the child’s suffering. Then the parents wrote a letter to the pope, who offered them Vatican passports to allow them to travel for treatment. Then doctors in England, Italy, Spain, and the US offered to try their own experimental therapies for free. Then the President tweeted support for bringing the child to the US. Then the parents appealed to local politicians to weigh in. Then sign-carrying protesters began to gather in front of the hospital. Then the parents took their story to social media so the rest of us can weigh in. I find all of this very troubling. Is it still possible to determine what course of action to take in Charlie Gard’s best interest? I wouldn’t want to be the one who decides. So I say a prayer for Charlie, and his parents, and the one who has to make that decision.

Most grown-ups believe they can competently handle most challenges that come their way each day. And most of them do. Some of us can still claim to be fairly sane and functional despite having dealt on occasion with any number of crisis involving broken sewer pipes, basement flooding, Christmas tree fires, major household appliance repair and replacement, kitchen fires, break-ins, petty theft, power outages, inclement weather, telemarketers, email spam, vandalism, job-related stress, food poisoning, seasonal flu, allergies, bad dates, break-ups, weddings, pregnancies, parent-teacher conferences, report cards, crazy relatives, family reunions, bad financial investments, bad playoff choices, church politics, regular politics, random violence, terrorism, cancer, mental illness, to name a few. Sometimes we second-guess ourselves. Sometimes friends and total strangers might question our motives. And every so often, we might wonder where God would stand on a particularly thorny issue.

The next step isn’t always evident. We sincerely make an effort to carefully arrive at the right choice and the best decision. Still there will be people who disagree with us who want very much the same outcome. But no one person has a monopoly on truth or wisdom. So we inform ourselves as best we can, and we consult professionals and experts, and we seek advice from those whose judgment we value, and we pray to God for direction and compassion and wisdom and courage. We believe God will have the right answer. We want to believe God has our best interest at heart. But being impartial and mature and wise is hard. Being an adult is hard. What must it be like to be God?

Jesus recognizes that there are no fast and easy solutions for dealing with evil in the world. Uprooting evil is never ever going to be that simple. I can understand how uprooting weeds growing among the wheat wouldn’t be either. But when we can see the damage unfolding before us, when it is jarring to our sense of balance and fairness and decency, we know we have to do something. Inaction can be just as damaging, if not more. And history has shown us time and again that good people doing nothing is the perfect formula for evil to triumph. Still the right course of action might elude us. Just doing something or anything is not the same as doing the right thing. That is why we weigh our options. That is why we talk to smarter and wiser people. That is why we take our troubles to prayer. And then there’s the paralysis of self-respect that makes us hesitate, along with our reluctance to offend even in the slightest. Clearly I’m not giving you any answers. In truth, I don’t have any. If you think being an adult is hard, imagine being a priest to whom other adults come for advice on relationships, marriage, parenting, life-and-death decisions, and every moral conundrum imaginable. I’m not saying I can’t handle the stress. I am also not unwilling to admit I have no personal experience or professional training in most areas in question. In the end, I’m seldom the one making the decisions. And just because I express some level of faith or trust in God does not mean everyone should as well or to the same degree. Sometimes the faith and trust I see in you puts me to shame. And I am not unwilling to admit that either.

We might ask why God isn’t more bothered by the presence of evil. If God can do something, and we believe God can do a great deal, why this seeming indifference to senseless suffering and injustice in the world? Why does God show no outrage, no horror, no disgust? The book of Wisdom describes God as just and merciful toward all, even the unjust and the undeserving. God is also without equal in might and power, yet lenient and forgiving. God reminds us that justice must also be kind. So God’s mercy gives us hope of forgiveness for our sins. Truthfully, God is alarmed by the prosperity of weeds growing among the wheat. But God’s concern and care for the good of the wheat is more important than the elimination of the weeds.

The mystery of evil does not escape God’s attention. In God’s design, the weeds will be bundled up and thrown into the fire, while the ripened wheat will be harvested and stored. We do not get to override God’s plan because God seems indifferent to our pain. Jesus reminds us that our more immediate concern is whether or not we are bearing fruit for the harvest.

Although we cannot eradicate all evil in the world, we can put greater effort into positive action. If we are to bear fruit for the harvest, we must do our part to give others hope, to bring about justice, peace, understanding, and the greater good. Unlike weeds, human hearts do change. Sinners do repent. People do come around. We might believe that punishment and restitution make perfect sense. But God might not see things as we see them. God’s justice at the proper time will be absolute and complete. There will be no disputing or questioning God’s judgment. Until then, God extends to us compassion, kindness, and mercy. Weeds can be good for the wheat. They provide challenge, motive and purpose to encourage us to prosper and bear fruit. While there is time, there is opportunity. So go on adulting as best you can. Don’t get discouraged. Surely God knows whether or not we are doing our best. And more than likely, so do we.

Rolo B Castillo © 2017