Once upon a time, a young man approaches a priest in the confessional with a smirk on his face. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I’m going to tell you right now that I broke every single commandment.” “Do not fret,” says the priest. All you need to do is take seven lemons, squeeze them into a glass, and drink the lemon juice.” “That will cleanse me from my sins?” “No, but it will wipe that stupid smirk off your face.”
God wants us to cultivate a good ground for hope.
Growing up on the south side of Chicago, we called an empty lot between two houses a prairie, and, we considered much of the plants nothing more than weeds. If I consulted Br. Guy, a botanist at the abbey, he would say that the plants in our prairie years ago were not weeds, but native Illinois plants. But who wants the beautiful colorful perennials growing up with the weeds, plants like the yellow dandelions, the white Queen Anne’s lace and the blue chicory?
In first century Palestine, the darnel plant resembles the wheat plant. And when these plants are young they are difficult to tell what is wheat and what is weed. Jesus uses this common known fact to teach us a lesson: stop sending people to hell. In the parable, the master’s slaves ask, “Do you want us to go and pull them (the weeds) up?” And Jesus says, “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest…”
Let the weeds and wheat grow up together. Why? In God’s kingdom, and in God’s time, and in God’s wisdom, and in God’s mercy, weeds have a chance to become wheat! Evil people can be converted. The heinous can become holy. No person is entirely good, and neither is someone entirely evil. God gives no one the divine right to condemn anyone to hell either because of a heinous crime or malicious gossip. And for too long we even condemned other Christians. In the middle ages, the medieval church took this parable literally and burned people at the stake for heresy or for even expressing different theological views.
You and I often think of burning people at the stake. You and I are so good at classifications. We label people. We keep them in boxes and often we do not free them to grow and change. Sometimes we expect them to fail.
This is not the Christian way. According to the Book of Wisdom, God judges with clemency. God is the master of might and always governs us with leniency. And as a good gardener and a master teacher, God allows the wheat and the weeds to grow together. God gives us good ground for hope because God always gives us room for repentance. According to the pastoral theologian, Alice Camille, these scriptures are the biggest theological arguments against the death penalty. In God’s justice, the wheat can teach the weeds how to change.
The best wheat here is the Eucharist. We who often bear weeds in our lives are now invited to eat of the finest wheat, Jesus Christ. He is our justice before God. He is our good ground of hope.
I dislike dandelions. Queen Anne’s lace makes me sneeze. Chicory looks ugly along the roadside. The ironic thing is that young dandelion leaves are nourishing. Chicory enlivens a salad. And butterflies and bees love Queen Anne’s lace. So, no smirking: weeds can become wheat!
16th Sunday Ordinary Time