The Christian hope is that we will see God. We call this hope the beatific vision. This is what St. John is talking about in the epistle (1 John 3:1f.) when he says, “We know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him: for we shall see him as he is.”
Moses saw God when he ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the commandments. His face was so illuminated by the encounter that the people were afraid to look at him (Exodus 34:29-30). Job saw God, and was humbled by the vision. He said, “I had heard of thAny attempt to explain the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (the gospel, Matthew 13:24f.) must begin with Jesus’ own interpretation. In a passage in Matthew subsequent to our gospel, the disciples said, “Explain the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.” Jesus said,
He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Mat 13:37-43 KJV)
The tares are a kind of weed that resembles wheat, but does not bear any edible fruit. Because of this deceptive appearance, the farmer allows the tares to continue to grow lest he mistakenly destroy some of the good along with the bad. He separates the tares from the wheat in the harvest, when both are uprooted and the true nature of each is evident. Likewise, God now lets the good and the bad exist together until the day of judgement.
This clear cut nature of judgment in the parable is sobering. When we talk about judgement, we find grey area and much uncertainty. But when Jesus talks about the coming judgment, it is black and white. God will take the good and get rid of the bad. We explain so as to comfort. But Jesus explains so as to make uncomfortable.
We can understand the judgment only if we understand the nature of fruit. You cannot harvest grain, or any other fruit, unless seed is planted that grows and produces fruit. We cannot produce the fruit that God is looking for unless the seed of the Holy Spirit, which is planted in our hearts, grows and bears fruit. Fruit is the organic result of God’s presence in our lives.
This principle of fruit bearing is explained by Jesus in a passage in John’s Gospel, which, though it speaks of grape rather than grain, nonetheless addresses the same issue. Jesus said,
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away: and every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bring forth more fruit….Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He who abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned…Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. (John 15:1-8 KJV)
Fruit is, essentially, changed behavior. We bear fruit because God lives in us and causes us to think and act in new ways. Changed behavior is the evidence that we are living “in Christ.” The absence of changed behavior is the evidence that we are not. Judgement is, thus, the revelation of whether or not we really live “in Christ,” of whether or not the seed of the Spirit has taken root, of whether or not we are attached to the true and life giving vine.
This process of fruit-bearing can be connected to the sacraments. God plants the seed of the Spirit in us in baptism. The life that is planted in baptism is fed by the Eucharist. As Jesus said,
Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. (John 6:53-56 KJV)
Of course, merely receiving the sacraments is no guarantee that one will bear fruit. The parable implies that the church itself contains both wheat and tares, both those who bear fruit and those who do not. We must, by faith, receive the life that is presented to us in the sacraments. We must, by acts of the will, follow the Holy Spirit and say no to the world, the flesh and the devil. In some the planted life takes root, grows and bears fruit. In others, to borrow from another agricultural parable, the planted life is hindered by temptation and the riches and cares of the world so that is does not take deep root or bear fruit to perfection (Luke 8:13-14).
We must have ears to hear and eyes to see so that we receive all that the liturgy presents to us. We must listen to the word of God and let it challenge and change our behavior. We must prepare for communion with sincerity of heart, making a genuine confession of what we have done wrong and making real efforts to reconcile with those we have offended. We must receive Christ by faith and let his presence produce new attitudes and behavior in us–all the good works he has prepared for us to walk in. The Christian life begins in prayer and results in fruit.
Today’s epistle (Colossians 3:12f.) what this fruit, or new behavior looks like:
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. (Col 3:12-17 KJV)
This is the kind of new behavior that bears witness to the life of Christ in us. This is the fruit that God is looking for when he comes to take his harvest home.ee by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye sees thee. Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:5-6, RSV).
Neither Moses nor Job saw all there is to see of God. God had said to Moses, “You cannot see my face: for no man can see me, and live.” (Ex 33:20). Both were given the privilege of seeing the measure of God’s glory they could endure without being consumed.
Man cannot see the fullness of God’s glory because of sin. It is not merely that God won’t let us look at him. It is, rather, that we are literally unable to endure his glory and presence because of our condition–just like we can’t look at the sun without losing our sight or walk through fire without being burned.
The Old Testament system of sacrifice and purification was instituted precisely so that God’s redeemed people might be able to enter back into his presence and see him. In each stage of the drama of redemption, God brings man closer to himself, or God comes closer to man. Man’s vision of God becomes clearer.
The definitive step in the vision of God is the Incarnation. In the Old Testament, God had no form. Those who saw him saw what they described as a combination of grand luminosity and rare jewelry. In the New Testament, the Son of God, who is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), enables us to see God in a new way. As St. John says, “We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
A further progression in our vison of God is made possible by the gift of the Holy Spirit. In 2 Corinthians, St. Paul contrasts the way Moses saw God with the way we see God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. The shining face of Moses faded over time. His vision of God resulted in a temporary glory that did not save him from death. Our vison of God in Christ through the Spirit results in an ever-increasing, eternal glory. As 2 Corinthians says, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory” (3:18).
We see God more clearly in Christ because our spiritual blindness has been healed. St. Paul says that the god of this world has “blinded the minds of those who do not believe” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The first miracle performed by the risen Christ was to give the gift of sight. He explained the Scriptures to the two men on the road to Emmaus, then he took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them. And “their eyes were opened and they knew him” (Luke 24:13-31, see also 24:45).
By grace, our minds are opened to understand the Scriptures and we know Christ in the breaking of the bread. We gather around the altar to see God. Not every problem is solved. Not every disease is healed–yet. But, as with Job, it is enough to see God and experience his presence. God gives us wisdom and strength for the present and hope for the future. “Now we are the children of God…And we know that when he appears we shall be like him.”
By grace, we see God in other people. We understand that people are not objects to be used or annoyances to be tolerated. They are made in the image of God and worthy of our time and love. By grace we see Christ in the members of his body. Christ ministers to us through the gifts of others, and we are called to serve Christ in others, especially in the least of his brethren (Matthew 25:40).
We see God through his redemptive presence in our lives. We experience the new creation as God brings his order out of our chaos, as the light of Christ shines in our darkness. By faith, we see the hand of God, even in bad things. We come to understand that, contrary to the visible evidence, God is in control. We learn that we can trust him to work in all things for good and finish his work in us.
We see God now by faith, but there is more to come. “We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” The word for appear in this passage means to reveal. It is connected to our word, “Epiphany.” What we call the “Second Coming” of Jesus is, really, a fuller revelation of Jesus. Jesus isn’t very far away. We just don’t see him fully yet. There are angels and demons in the world, but we don’t see them yet either. There is day of final revelation coming when our current vision will be expanded so that we can really see.
We wait and hope for the day when faith will give way to sight. We wait and hope for the day when God will fully reveal himself in all his glory. The revelation of God through Jesus will be judgment for the world and salvation for God’s people. Sin, death and all manor of evil will vanish from his presence in the very moment of his glorious appearance (cf. 2 Thess. 2:8). Those who belong to him, those who now see and know in part, will see and know fully. Now we experience redemption as a gradual process. Then we will experience redemption “in a moment, in the twinkling of any eye”(1 Corinthians 15:52).
St. John says that this hope purifies us. The desire to see God and be perfected by him is the beginning of holiness. And it puts life in perspective. In all of our trials and tribulations, and in the hour of death, we can say, with Job, “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth….And…in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26).