Sunday, July 20, 2014

Letting weeds become wheat

HOMILY FOR THE 16th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 20, 2014:

Growing up, as a young boy, Sunday nights always had a ritual. You quickly took your Sunday night bath so that you could be in front of the TV in time for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, followed by The Wonderful World of Disney and Little House on the Prairie. Now, Wild Kingdom in particular was always exciting because inevitably Marlin Perkins would come face-to-face with something ferocious – a lion, a tiger, a bear (oh my?). And it would be exciting.

I was thinking of this recently because I never expected to experience such a ferocious encounter of the wild living here in the concrete jungle, but when grilling some chicken in the small alleyway between the friary and church a week and a half ago, I suddenly found myself dodging a very angry pigeon that was dive-bombing in my direction in a great flurry. Why? Well, I quickly discovered the answer. This was a mother pigeon protecting two eggs next to the air conditioner unit for the Church and I apparently was a threat. So, I gave Mama her space.

I was then away for a week and came back home on Friday and was eager to see if I had any new pigeon chicks in the alleyway. What I saw was the Mom protecting one cute little chick, and the second egg cast outside of the nest. And, that was a really sad sight – to see the Mom protecting one, but having completely cast off another of her children. But, of course, I reminded myself that that was simply the way of nature. That’s the way it sometimes goes. Some make it, some don’t.

We heard in our Gospel today, “His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull the weeds up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest.”

Now, unlike the chicks in my alley, Jesus gives us a different image from nature today – that of wheat and weeds. So, what is He trying to tell us today through this image? To put this image into context, I think our human nature can sometimes be like the pigeon or other animals in the wild – we want to create categories. Often enough the categories are things like us and them; who’s in and who’s out; good and bad; sinner and saint – here in the North End we have our own special categories like Mike’s or Modern’s. We tend towards being exclusionary; to judge who is better and who is worse.

Too often, even after we have come to know God in our hearts, when we have given ourselves totally to Him – we still want to create these categories. We cast aside our own sins, we seek forgiveness and reconciliation, we walk in the light of the Lord. But, something else happens – we now become acutely aware of everyone else’s sin. When we become wheat – to use Jesus’ imagery today – we see all the weeds around us. And that is the problem that Jesus is trying to get at today with this image of wheat and weeds – what we might call the old Holier-Than-Thou Syndrome. We transfer our natural human tendency towards being judgmental and exclusionary into the spiritual realm.

But, Jesus calls us to something different. He calls us not to something merely natural, but through Him, the Son of God, through His gift of the Sacraments – He invites us into the supernatural where we are no longer bound by the flawed constraints of our weak human nature. He tell us today, “Let the weeds and wheat grow together until the harvest.”

Jesus recognized – especially in the Pharisees (a name which means literally “the separated ones” by the way) – that even our holiness can become a temptation to judge others. We all know the type – we’ve all probably been like this at one point or another in our lives – we decide that we can judge spiritually who is in and who is out. Take any of today’s hot-button issues. We might decide it is someone who is divorced or who committed adultery; or someone who had an abortion. It could be someone who is just mean and hateful, someone who is gay or lesbian, someone who has stolen or even committed some other horrible crime. We look at them and we become a self-appointed judge and jury deciding their spiritual fate. But, where is God’s love and mercy in that? Where is God’s opportunity for encounter, relationship, reconciliation and forgiveness and healing in that?

The problem, of course, is that God never asked us to do any of this. Pope Francis said it much more succinctly last year when he said simply, “Who am I to judge?” It was a powerful statement coming from the Holy Father, but it is one that should come from each one of us too. Who are we to judge? There is only one judge; and it is not us – it is God, the true and only judge we will face.

But, who are we to love? Who are we to forgive? Who are we to show compassion? Who are we to reach out to the needy, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the refugee, the immigrant? We are. Jesus is very explicit about those things. These are our commands. This is what He asks us to do – to love, to be His loving, kind, compassionate and forgiving presence in our world. How are we doing with that?

“Let them grow together,” weeds and wheat together, Jesus tells us. Why? Well, in the Kingdom of God, something amazing can happen. Weeds can become wheat. If Jesus, through His grace and mercy, can transform mere bread and wine into His Body and Blood – as He will do again in front of our very eyes on this altar today – then surely He can also turn weeds into wheat. Perhaps some of us here – maybe many of us here, maybe all of us here – were once weeds ourselves, but through God’s amazing grace, have been transformed into wheat. “Let them grow together,” He says because He is giving us all the time we need to do the same. He wants all the weeds to become the beautiful wheat of His harvest.It might be nature’s way to cast off the ones who don’t look like they are going to make it. But, that is not God’s way and it most certainly should not be our way. Pope Francis said, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven." Let’s make his words our words too.

May the Lord give you peace.

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