Jul 22, 2017

Exterminate or Tolerate

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2017

Those who listened to Jesus talk about this image where people of the land and who depended on the land and its produce for survival. Even to this day, much of the political and religious conflicts of the Middle East stems from who controls the land and its produce.

The weed Jesus talked about was “cockle-seed”. In its early stages it looks very much like wheat and even to the farmer, it is practically impossible to tell the two apart. When it matures it produces a delicate purple flower. If, however, any part of the root or stem makes its way into the grain supply in large numbers, because of its toxicity, it can have disastrous effects on any product with wheat.

As with every parable spoken to us by Christ, this one is loaded, packed and layered with so much to reflect on. His illustration of the weeds and wheat having to grow alongside until harvest time doesn't need much explanation. We get the point. But too often, we fail to apply it to our own lives.

This might be because, simply put, we tend to think of ourselves as problem solvers. We don't like to sit on the fence and allow complex and unpredictable situations to unravel freely.  When Our Lord has the landowner question where the weeds came from, maybe it was one of us who jumped up first and yelled, “Aha! An enemy has done this. Let’s fight it down, fast and furious” And so, conspiracy theories are born and we rush out where even angels dare not to tread!
Perhaps, as a relatively young nation - born from a revolution, defined by a civil war, engaged in many armed conflicts abroad and political tugs of war at home, we seem to, at times, see our world, our nation and even our own community, in terms of good and bad. We can be quick to put labels on people - us and them, friends and foes, rich and poor, red states and blue states, the saint and the sinner, native and immigrant. You get the picture! But even within these categories and labels there are subdivisions still, that make their way down to the root.

This attitude can germinate closer to home. I’m not talking simply about a Red Sox/Yankees rivalry, or the wild cries of “soccer mums” and “little league dads”. Who we identify as the weeds and the wheat often trickle down, not only to residents of our various neighborhoods and cities, but even into the sanctuaries of our own Catholic communities.  “I go to this church because I don’t like that church”.  “I attend this Mass because I don’t like the other Mass” “I want my kids educated this way, because I don't want them influenced another way”  “I keep only within my own circle because I’m suspicious of those outside it.” And so it goes, dividing, multiplying and spreading.

In short, we can be quick to identify ourselves as the true wheat and others as the true weeds.  “Do you want us to go and pull out the weeds”, the servants said to the landowner. “No! That type of attitude [and I’m paraphrasing] will cause more damage than good. Allow them to grow together. And anyway”, Our Lord reminds his servants, “you’re not qualified to to make that judgment call. It takes a trained harvester, angels of God, to distinguish one from another ”.  I wouldn't be surprised if some of those zealous servants who thought of themselves as the true wheat were indeed some of the first to be yanked from their own hiding places at harvest time!

So, before we grab the Roundup and start pointing it at others, Our Lord’s words allow us, his servants, to first examine our own inner garden - my own heart and soul, remembering Our Lord’s call, “The one among you who is without sin, cast the first stone”. But on the other side, this does not mean that everyone has to rush to confession every day trying, by their own efforts, to bleach out the stain of a sin that constantly recalls our own wounds and vulnerabilities. We should remember Christ’s tender words to St. Paul “ 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (Corinthians 12:9)

A your pastor, I look out at the flock entrusted to my care. I do so, with the discerning eye of a gardener (and I take comfort that Our Risen Lord was mistaken as one on Easter Sunday). And what do I see? I see weeds and wheat. But you might start thinking, "Who's what?" Wrong question. I see weeds and wheat growing together in the rich soil of many an individual’s life, in each one of us. They grow together within the tensions and challenges of family life, in relationships of marriage and between friends. I see the incredible patience of those who live with sickness or a disease, or with the fear that a defective gene might be triggered or a cancer cell might spread. I have come to admire the patience of parents with screaming babies, or the dedication and sacrifices made by families who look after a child with special needs, or have a loved one struggling with addiction or depression. I am encouraged by those who are not afraid to climb out of their painted flower pot and enter into the ever expanding field or into a formidable forest, befriending those they meet along the way as Christ did, not afraid of saints and sinners.

We all live with weeds and wheat in our own lives, and yes, often there is a tension between the two. But Our Lord’s words should remind us that because we are not the harvesters, we should examine first our own soil, how we can often mistaken even the potential of true wheat as hostile weeds, and to not allow our fears to drive us into conflicts and wars of words that can often create hostile territory.  

Christ himself is the Lord of the Harvest which will come in due time, his own time. He will not allow any of us to force his hand. Instead, as today’s Sunday psalm reminds us we should join our voice to the psalmist and pray “You, O LORD, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in, kindness and fidelity. Turn toward me, and have pity on me; give your strength to your servant.” (Psalm 84). And your patience.

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