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home : opinion : perspectives

8/3/2017 9:00:00 AM
A garden of weeds and wheat

(Editor's note: Deacon Solomon delivered this homily at Masses at St. Peter's parish in Saratoga Springs the weekend of July 22-23, the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time.)

My teacher for my first lesson as a novice gardener was a weed.

I was in my garden, engaged in the seemingly endless task of battling weeds. Tired, cranky and hot, I pulled too hard on a deep-rooted weed and felt a familiar twinge in my back: a spasm. I was bent like a pretzel.

Jesus' gardening parable (Mt 13:24-43) revives that memory. His sage advice was meant for my ears: "Do not pull up the weeds or you might uproot the wheat, as well. Let them grow together until harvest time, when I will separate the wheat from the weeds."

God has a great sense of humor!

Jesus uses the image of a garden to describe the kingdom of God. He does not describe a place of sweet celestial music, inhabited by chubby pink cherubs, waiting for us at the end of our lives.

Rather, Jesus tells His followers -- you and me -- that the kingdom of God is taking shape right here, right now. For Jesus, the reign of God is an alternative kingdom that exists side by side with the kingdoms of this world.

Jesus' kingdom of mercy, love and forgiveness stood in direct opposition to the powerful kingdom of Rome, where Caesar ruled with total authority. Caesar determined who were the weeds (his enemies) in his empire and eliminated anyone who threatened his power.

Like those first disciples, you and I live with the tension between the kingdoms of this world and the reign of God. The parable of the weeds and wheat describes life as we experience it. We live in a world full of weeds: violence, poverty, injustice and greed, to name just a few. Yet, we also see signs of God's reign breaking in amongst the weeds: food pantries, works of mercy and random acts of kindness, for instance.

Each of us is a mixture of wheat and weed. When we pray, forgive or show compassion, the wheat is dominant. When we hold grudges, seek our own gratification at the expense of others or neglect those who need our help, the weeds in us proliferate.

We all have a tendency to sort people into wheat and weeds, good and evil. Our own fears and egos make us prone to judge others by their appearances.

All too often, we perceive people from different racial, cultural of religious backgrounds as weeds. Differences between people can be exploited, resulting in discrimination, racial hostility and tension.

History is filled with examples of what happens when the group in power asserts that they are the wheat and those who do not belong to that group are weeds. The Holocaust, ethnic cleansing and persecution of minorities offer sad reminders of that.

How do we live in this world of ambiguity -- a world where weeds and wheat grow, where their roots are often intertwined? We follow Jesus' example. He welcomed the weeds of His world, the poor and the marginalized. He saw beyond exterior appearances into their hearts. Jesus' love brought out the flower in every weed.

The truth is, it's often impossible to distinguish between the weeds and the wheat. I learned that while trying to do my wife a favor by weeding her flower garden. In the process, I pulled up some of her prize perennials! Some will discover that truth at the racetrack, as they watch their favorite lose to a long shot, a "weed" who never won a race before!

What mom has not welcomed the gift of a bouquet of dandelion flowers picked by her little one? Dandelions are precious yellow flowers in the eyes of a child, nuisance weeds, to others.

When there was a terrorist attack in May at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, a homeless man who had been begging outside helped rescue bombing victims, one of whom died in his arms. A weed bloomed into a beautiful flower and became a hero.

There is much wisdom in old adage, "You can't judge a book by its cover." We can't judge each other by our covers of skin color, sexual orientation or religion.

Jesus challenges you and me to hold our judgments: to let wheat and weed grow together, to entrust to God alone the task of judgment. We are called to be as patient and tolerant of others -- especially those who are different from us -- as God is patient and tolerant of us.

God patiently waits for every weed to turn into a flower. When that happens, the kingdom of God will become the only kingdom on this planet, and all creation will once again be in harmony.

Until that time, you and I might think twice before judging someone or pulling a weed!

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