Bottom line: In telling us to allow weeds to grow, Jesus is not saying to tolerate sin, but to see hope even in our sinful tendencies.
I'd don't know about you, but I find today's readings comforting. Not comforting in the sense of relaxing, but that they give hope. The Psalm describes God as "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity." In the Old Testament reading, Solomon says that God has given his children good ground to hope that he would permit repentance - a change of life. And St. Paul speaks about how God comes to the aid of our weakness because "we do not know how to pray as we ought." But his Spirit prays within us. Remember that when you feel like you are spinning your wheels. Your prayer time is never wasted - the Spirit prays within you.
In the Gospel Jesus gives further grounds for hope. People often get discouraged because, as they say, "the church is full of hypocrites." Wouldn't it be better if we could get rid of certain people? When one starts thinking that way, Jesus says, "No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat. Let them grow together until harvest." To mix metaphors: There is a difference between protecting the flock from wolves and growing a weed-free garden. I'm glad - relieved - that I don't have the job of pulling out weeds.
What Jesus says about the weeds and wheat also applies to our souls. Not that we should tolerate sin in our lives, but we need to recognize that the same energy behind some bad habit can be an energy for good. Let me illustrate.
A certain man had a terrible temper. His outbursts of rage were destroying his family. He went to a priest for help. The priest pointed out that his tendency to anger had a good side. The man was surprised because he did not see anything good in his temper, which often went out of control. But the priest explained that God gave him the energy of anger and wants him to use that energy to protect and defend his family. When the man went home, he talked with his wife and children. He asked forgiveness for the outbursts, but also said he wanted to form a strong family - a family that would withstand the attacks against it.
The man got out one of those picture books. It had symbols for the cardinal virtues: courage, justice, prudence and temperance. The virtue he focused on was temperance and its symbol was a compact fire. If a fire gets too big, it burns down the house, but if it's too small it simply dies out. Temperance keeps anger in the right balance. Anger is not bad in itself. A certain amount produces heat and light. The family thought about this and the man's wife said she would help her husband keep the fire in the fireplace. Together they prayed for the virtue of temperance.
Temperance means not being too quick to uproot the weeds - lest one also pull out the wheat. When you think about it, where does wheat come from anyway? The wheat that we use today to make bread used to be a weed that grew everywhere. But then, at some point, one of our ancestors saw that we could domesticate those weeds - and transform them into wheat. It was a major turning point in human history. So it can be in our lives.
I have to say that this business about weeds and wheat gives me a lot of hope. I thought I would be a better person by the time I hit sixty-two. But I still have sinful tendencies in me. Sometimes I wish they would go away. But God allows them to remain because he wants to bring something positive from them.* He will remove the weeds at the right moment.
Let me give one more example. Not a personal one - at least I hope this particular vice never overtakes me. But I have noticed that many today have caught the gambling bug. You don't need to drive far to run into a casino. They have plenty of cars in their parking lots and they are setting up new facilities to separate seniors from their money. And unfortunately not just seniors. Young people who should be building families are throwing away everything on the slim chance of making a million. As I say, I do not have the gambling vice - and I pray God, I never will. But even that vice has a good tendency in it: the impulse to risk everything. God has structured our lives in such a way that you and I have to take a risk. At some point we must put everything on the table. We have to say, "Dear God, I am going to stake it all on you." Now, you can't get a more certain bet, but, still, it does require the decision to risk all.
Gambling has hit our society like an algae bloom on a lake. You see it everywhere. God allows it as a punishment because we have become so timid in other areas - for example taking the risk of marriage or answering a call to the priesthood. We are not meant to be couch potatoes. We are meant to risk all.**
To sum up: In today's readings God gives comfort, hope. He assures us of his forgiveness and his help for our weakness. He asks us to see hope even in our sinful tendencies. They contain an energy that God can direct for good - if we ask him for the virtue of temperance. Anger can burn and destroy, but with temperance it can warm and guide and protect. The fever of gambling can underscore the necessary risk involved in vocation and faith. Jesus says it more memorably: "If you pull up the weeds, you might uproot the wheat along with them. Allow them to grow together until the harvest." And do not despair. The harvest may be closer than you imagine.
*The sins, of course, belong to me and they have hurt me and others - but the energy belongs to God and with his grace, it can do enormous good.
**But not as the dupe of casino operators - although it seems a fitting "punishment" for the one too pusillanimous for the demands of vocation. I am using the word "punishment" in a biblical sense - a scourge that, in mercy, God sends to bring one back to him.
General Intercessions for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A (from Priests for Life)
From Archives (for Sixteenth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (World Youth Day, First Pastor of Holy Family, Fortieth Anniversary of Humanae Vitae, “general lowering of morality” at Shakespeare Festival)
Mark Shea on University of Minnesota prof who wants to desecrate Eucharist
Spreading the Love at World Youth Day (by Dawn Eden)
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus:
And it struck me then, like a bolt of lightning, a bolt of lightning that illuminated our moral and cultural moment, that Prof. Montagu and those of like mind believed that the people of St. John the Evangelist—people whom I knew and had come to love as people of faith and kindness and endurance and, by the grace of God, hope unvanquished—it struck me then that, by the criteria of the privileged and enlightened, none of these my people had a life worth living. In that moment, I knew that a great evil was afoot. The culture of death is an idea before it is a deed.
In that moment, I knew that I had been recruited to the cause of the culture of life.
From First Things: The Vindication of Humanae Vitae by Mary Eberstadt
my bulletin column
Parish Picture Album
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Steven Greydanus - Redefining Marriage: Who's to Blame?