Sixteenth Sunday of the Year
The gospel continually calls us to seek to do relationships differently. To do that means we need to question how we classify people and situations. In the face of evil and people hurting others by unkindness, lack of care and malice, the gospel whilst acknowledging the negative invites us to hope. The parables turn traditional values upside down. Jesus reverses our understanding by insisting that there is wheat among the weeds, not weeds among the wheat. The word is that God is present amid evil, destruction, inadequacy, and insignificance. God is not limited by human weakness or failure. Evil, brokenness, pain, and sin are realities in our world but do not have the last say. God is patient. It comes from love and unlimited concern for all creatures. This is the soil from which God can work. Positive fruitfulness can be found in the messy field. Clearly, the Church is not meant to be a sect of perfect people. We are asked to check our assumptions about what we classify as ‘weeds.’ Might we be mistaken? Might we judge things to be harmful when they are not? Jesus’ teachings about peace and liberation were viewed as a weed that needed to be removed. What was viewed as a weed as with the mustard seed, was actually a lifegiving tree.
What in the 1st Century was considered and invasive noxious weed, was not a weed, but a tree that was fruit bearing and a source of shelter. This is the story of liberation movements around the world. In the Philippines, for example, religious and community leaders who raise their voices for justice are ‘red-tagged’ as Communists and need to be weeded out. In Palestine, people resisting the occupation are deemed as terrorists. The mustard plant was the way people viewed Jesus’s teachings and of his followers. Their existence was to be rooted out. The miscalculation occurs as LGBTIQA+ people continue to be designated as ‘adulterers,’ ‘fornicators,’ ‘alcoholics,’ ‘drug abusers,’ and ‘child-molesters.’ Through conversion or reparative therapy, they can be weeded out. But Jesus is interested in relationships and growth rather than weeding or extermination. This goes against an almost irresistible tendency to clarify, to categorise, to separate, and to judge the worthiness of one another. We label people as good or bad, pretty, or ugly, important or unimportant, smart or slow, stylish or old-fashioned, conservative or progressive. We divide people according to gender, sexual orientation, skin pigmentation, ethnicity, age, economic status, religious affiliation, language, and so on. Such labels are often permanent and do not allow for the possibility of change, growth, and transformation. This parable has often been used as a ‘text of terror,’ as a weapon to threaten people with condemnation or declare God’s inevitable judgment on those whom they oppose for whatever reason. Goodness, love, compassion, truth, kindness, service of others can never be confused with what others call ‘weeds.’ One never knows what those considered ‘weeds’ might actually achieve or bring about. Which side do you think Jesus would be on? The poor? The outsider? The stranger? The lonely child?
Many people probably did not hear implications of “Let the weeds and the wheat both grow together” at home or school or community – whether it applied to themselves or others. Everyone and everything are a mixed bag - not all weeds, and not all wheat. Our Church is not one or the other. Our country is not one or the other. We are called to be realistic about ourselves and others without justifying selfishness, unkindness, and violence. Good and bad, justice and injustice, kindness and insensitivity, life and death, joy and sorrow are realities. The parable is not a call to passivity. Where we stand in relation to God’s reign determines what we see, hear, and understand. It depends on we stand. Jesus confronts this attitude with the challenge, ‘Let them grow together’ – and grow we must if we are to be true images of our patient God. God continues to renew and rebuild us from the ashes of broken trust and ruptured relationships. But, decency, civility, compassion, kindness, openness to others can be choked by meanness, greed, selfishness, and hatred which can be overcome by decency, kindness and compassion. We are not asked to do nothing. We do not have be inactive in the face of negativity. We should not be surprised at the effectiveness that little actions for justice, kindness and compassion can achieve. Some of our greatest victories are what does not happen: what is not built or destroyed, deregulated or legitimised, passed into law or tolerated. Even losing can be part of the process of change. Repeated small, incremental actions do matter even when the results are not immediate or obvious. The true impact of activism may not be felt for a generation. That alone is reason to struggle, rather than surrender to despair.
Our country has been cobbled together from bits and parts of the world, from cultures and beliefs as various as the world knows. Clashing values will lead to a new day. We cannot say how that will be. Our challenge is to see in the face of evil that God is still at work to save and not punish; to love and not to condemn. We are called to learn to live with difference without excluding or removing all the differences from our lives, our communities, and our world. These could also be people of colour, or a different religion, sexual orientation, culture or economic status. We can judge people and situations by our own criteria. What is different is evil or backward or old-fashioned. Do we have the patience to allow people to move and grow at their pace, in their own time? We need to be patient with ourselves, others, and their difference. God is present even where there is ‘evil’. Despite our frequent failings and repeated sins, our patient God gives us what is perhaps the greatest gift of all — time, here and now, to repent of our sins. Anne Lamott says, ‘When we manage a flash of mercy for someone we don’t like – including ourselves – we experience a great spiritual moment.’ In the upcoming referendum on the Voice, we can easily condemn people on either side as being bad or closed minded rather than incorporating them in ways that they may see things differently. In a recent editorial in The Tablet, the writer pointed how those most uncomfortable with the leadership model of Pope Francis, and unsettled by his reforms are not treated as enemies but incorporated into his project.
Today’s gospel is relevant as we consider #Palestinian Lives Matter or BlackLivesMatter where racism is challenged. How do we let go of the false assumptions about ourselves, our churches and country? Has our faith been divided since the settlers came to this country by overlooking or ignoring the impact this has had on First Nations people? Where the First Nations people talked about belonging and relationship, the settlers talk about ownership and individualism. God is patiently yet continually interrupting us bigtime. We are all capable of taking the moral high ground whenever we think a situation demands it, but, equally, we can find all kinds of excuses to justify our actions when we really know that they are motivated by self-interest. This kind of struggle goes on within each of us and the challenge is for us to be more and more ‘wheat’ for a world that is being choked by ‘weeds.’ How often do we refuse to hear the cries for justice from our sisters and brothers who are black or coloured which betray a hardness of heart that enables to build a shield against the God’s presence? The ringing truth is: God cares for all… people and creation. It is to be shared with all people. Knowing this makes for peace and peaceful living.
Let us remember an insight from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: ‘If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?’ (The Gulag Archipelago)