Saturday, July 22, 2017
Who am I to judge?
Growing up Sunday nights always had a ritual about them. You quickly had your bath so that you could be in front of the TV in time for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Wild Kingdom 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 had my own encounter with something ferocious when I was living in Boston. One evening I was grilling chicken in the small alleyway between the friary and church, when I suddenly found myself dodging a very angry pigeon that was dive-bombing in my direction. I quickly discovered this was a mother pigeon protecting two eggs nearby. So, I gave Mama her space. A week later I checked 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 it was a sad sight – to see the Mom protecting one, but having cast off another. I reminded myself that that was simply the way it goes sometimes in the wild kingdom. Some make it, some don’t.
We heard in our Gospel today, “‘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.” Unlike the chicks in my alley, Jesus gives us a different image from nature today – that of wheat and weeds. To put this into context, I think our nature can sometimes be like the pigeon deciding who make it and who doesn’t. We create categories like us and them; good and bad; sinner and saint. These exclude and we judge who is better and who is worse.
Even people of faith still seem to create these categories. We seek forgiveness and reconciliation for our own sins and walk in the light of the Lord. But, too often, when we’re forgiven, we become acutely aware of everyone else’s sin. When we become wheat – to use Jesus’ image today – we suddenly see 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 Holier-Than-Thou Syndrome. But, Jesus calls us to something different, something new, something better. Through the gift and grace of the Sacraments, and our living faith, Jesus invites us into a supernatural realm where we are no longer bound by the constraints of human nature. He tell us, “Let the weeds and wheat grow together until the harvest.”
Jesus recognized – especially in the Pharisees (a name which means literally “the separated ones”) – that even our holiness can become a temptation to judge others. We sometimes consciously or unconsciously decide that we can spiritually judge who is in and who is out. Take any of today’s hot-button issues. We might be tempted to judge someone who is divorced or who committed adultery; or someone who had an abortion. It could just be someone who is mean and hateful, or a gossip, 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. But, where is God’s love and mercy in that? Where is God’s opportunity for encounter, relationship, reconciliation and forgiveness and healing?
The problem, of course, is that God never asked us to be the judge. Pope Francis said it much more directly when he said five simple words, “Who am I to judge?” These were five powerful words coming from the Pope, but the same words should come from each of us too. Who are we to judge? There is only one judge; and it is not us – it is God, the only true judge we will ever face.
But change that statement ever so slightly and ask, who are we to love? Who are we to forgive? Who are we to show compassion? Who are we to welcome? Who are we to reach out to the needy, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the refugee, the immigrant? These are exactly the things we are called to do, and our judgment only gets in the way of these things. Jesus explicitly asks us to be the ones who love, to be His kind, welcoming, compassionate and forgiving presence in our world.
Jesus tells us to “Let [the weeds and wheat] grow together.” Why? Because in His Kingdom, 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; if Jesus can turn even our sins into holiness every time we go to Confession – 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, we have been transformed into wheat. “Let them grow together,” Jesus 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 us make his words our words too.
May the Lord give you peace.