Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The wheat and the weeds.

July 23, 2017

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 106

WIS 12:13, 16-19

PS 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16

ROM 8:26-27

MT 13:24-43

My friend, who I will refer to as the Huckleberry, and I were just talking the other day about our summer assignment.  As men going from Aspirancy into Candidacy, we have been given the task of writing a daily homily for the Mass readings each day throughout the summer.  Huck and I were talking about how easy it was to fall back into the same thing that we wrote about last year, and how often it seemed like it was the same message over and over.  That’s not a bad thing, as long as the message is good, right?  There is also something to be said about freshening up that image and making it speak to the current climate politically, socially, and economically.  “Know your audience.”   That’s always good advice.

This got me to really think about the parable of the wheat and the weeds though.  I’ve been writing this blog for around seven years now.  In that time I’ve come across this parable a few times.  Each time I’ve written about false wheat (Lolium temulentum, Darnel).  I’ve talked about the properties of this weed and how much it mimics real wheat.  Darnel though doesn’t look like wheat in one particular moment, and that is at the time of harvest.  Wheat gets heavy and the dried stalk can’t support the weight of all its fruit, so it bends over.  It bows down.  Darnel is light and the fruit is fake, it has no weight.   So it stands up straight and tall.   That’s a good message to remember, both that real fruit has substance, and also that true Christianity requires humility.  It requires us to bow at the end of the harvest to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, not to stand tall with a false sense of pride.

I didn’t want to write that same message this year.  So I’ve spent many hours in prayer, mulling over the parable and the readings for Sunday.  What I want to talk about first off is what it means to be a weed.   A weed is a wild plant, growing where it is not wanted.   That doesn’t mean a weed is useless.   In fact, sometimes a weed can be very useful.   What it does mean is that the weed is not producing the fruit the farmer wants.  It also means that it is using up the nutrients in the soil, the water, and potentially the sunlight that the other plants, the crops, need to be fruitful.  Some weeds even look more attractive to the eye than the plants that produce the fruit.   They smell good, they have nice looks to them, and as far as production?  They grow fast and haphazardly.

To be a weed then means to not produce the fruit the farmer intends from that plot of land.  It means to grow however it wants to grow.  As I was ‘weeding’ my little garden out front this morning I noticed lots of little plants growing.  Plants I didn’t put there.  Plants that the seeds got there from other places.  I also noticed that one of the fruits on the tomato plant had started to rot.   Its end was starting to drip and it looked bruised and unpleasant.  Something important is there for the rest of us.  This tomato plant wasn’t bad.   It was growing exactly where I wanted it to grow.  It was producing exactly the kind of tomatoes I expected it to produce.  Yet, the fruit here wasn’t what I wanted out of it.  So I had to remove it.  I had to prune it.   The fruit on its own wasn’t bad…  but it wasn’t the fruit I had in mind.

A lot of times we want to be the farmer.   We want to point out the fruit of this person or that person and declare them the weeds.   In our hubris, we want to be the one who decides which one of us is the good plant, producing the good fruit, and which one of us is the weed.  That’s not our job.  Now there is a difference in looking at fruit and deciding if it’s good.  That’s discernment.  There is also a difference in warning our neighbors that the fruit they are producing is bad fruit.  That’s important work for the Christian brotherhood, to help one another and aid a reformation.  It’s quite another to declare them a weed.  Worthless.  Not able to produce fruit.

The thing is all of us have produced bruised and broken fruit.  We’ve produced lumpy apples that no one in our American supermarkets would want to buy.  Our cucumbers have been too watery at one moment, and at others dry and cracking.  We’ve suffered from blossom end rot, and root rot from too much of this or too little of that.  That doesn’t make us a weed.  It makes us human.  It makes us a plant that is struggling to produce that perfect fruit that only can be produced with the grace of God as our nourishment and care.

As the soil in the garden, it’s our job to receive our seeds directly from Him. We aren’t the farmer.  We don’t get to choose which seeds are good for us and bad because He can see things and knows things we don’t.  What we have to do then is discern which seeds are growing which plants.  All too often I want to be just the wheat when I’m also the dirt.  I’m the clay that He has molded into a man.  To produce the wheat we must first work on the soil.  Even the way I said that was wrong.   We must first let the farmer, not ourselves, tend the soil, and that requires putting ourselves into the hands of Jesus with all things.

Then we are also the plant, as in this parable.  We take the seed we’ve been given and we try to nourish it.   That means continually working with God, receiving the grace He has offered us through the Sacraments, to continually replenish the soil.  Almost like a supernatural Miracle Grow, the Eucharist floods us with everything we need to produce fruit.   Then the gardener has to prune those branches that aren’t working so well.   Even branches that might seem like good things, branches that on other plants produce tremendous fruit, might have to be pruned from your life that you can continue to grow where He has designed you to grow.

For some, a casual drink is an opportunity to relax with others and to spend time speaking and witnessing, for another that same drink is a poison that must be removed.  To the person who has a great deal of time taking on a new ministry might be just what they need to flourish and grow, but to the man who is already doing what He is called to do and is at his limits physically and temporally, another ministry might make other fruits rot or drop to the ground because of lack of attention and nutrients. That’s why discernment is so important.  Those called to ministry are often the same people, doing all the work.   You find the same people on the Pastoral Council, serving as Lectors, Commentators, and Eucharistic Ministers.  None of those are bad things.  We are a big garden, with lots of plants, and some of them need to step in and produce fruits.  Sometimes those who are already growing need to say no, that their yeses may be more abundant in the area they are already called to be.

I think the most important lesson though of all of this, the one that is most abused in this world, is we are not the gardener.  We are not the ones called at the end of time to sort the wheat from the weeds.  We are just the plants who must channel our energies into the fruit that we are designed to produce.  We must make sure our roots are going into the right parts of the soil, drawing from the tree of life itself, drenched in the water that flows from the side of Christ in the Sacraments, that our fruit may be both nourishing and pleasant to the senses.   We don’t get to kick the weeds out of our midst.   We also don’t get to decide who is a weed and who a proper plant.  All we get to do is grow, and help them grow.  

How do we do that though?  We point them to the right sources of nourishment.  We show them the best place to be to receive the rays of the sun.   We move out of the way that they too can see clearly the warm rays of life that stream down from the Eucharist.  We journey with them realizing that they too are plants just like us, that even the ones who aren’t producing the best fruit, have in some way produced some.  That each person produces both good and bad fruit at different stages of their life.  It’s not too late for them, and it’s not too late for us.  As long as we are still growing we have a chance.  As long as life still flows through the veins of our mortal bodies, we have the option of becoming that plant or that weed.

We then, like the Christ we so emulate becoming, become lenient and merciful.  We look at the fruit being produced, and even if it’s not the best we laud them for their efforts.   We mourn the loss of good fruit as it falls to the ground, knowing that it was an attempt that was broken by the storms, the evil of the world.   We clearly label those fruits which are not welcome in the garden, and we trust in the Church to guide us to the correct soil, the right nutrients, and the pure water that flows from the throne of God.  Then we don’t try to be the one plant who grows up to block all the others.

That, my friends, is the other thing that I would declare a weed.   A plant that blocks the other plants from growing, that tries to push them out of the way that they don’t hinder his growth.   That’s never the attitude that a garden wants.  The purpose of a garden is to grow the most fruit, and maybe even more importantly, the fruit the gardener demands of it.  A garden that is grown to nourish a man should have a multitude of colors and shapes.   One fruit alone will not nourish forever, nor would it be the design of most gardeners.  It requires all of the fruits, all the different shapes, sizes, and colors.  If one plant were to grow up to block the sun from all the others, the garden would suffer. If it were to dig it's rooted in to try and take all of the grace of itself, neglecting to share it and pass it on to the rest of the plants?  Then it would starve the rest for its own self.

What Christ calls us to though is to be servants.   To be the plant that grows with and for the other plants.   That moves its leaves to the side, not seeking to be seen for its own worth, but to point to and guide others to the source of Life, Christ.  The image of the book of Revelation says that there will be no need for moon or sun, lamp or candle, for Christ will be the only light we need.  That’s our calling.   To point to that light.  The source of all life and nourishment.  To grow to produce fruit, but also to reach out to all of those around us and help the entire garden succeed.

The gravest error in Christianity today is the notion that it is just a personal relationship with Jesus.  That somehow I alone have access to God, and that your walk, your salvation has nothing to do with me.  This notion that it’s a personal relationship is true, but it’s not just a personal one.  It’s also a communal one.   It’s an entire world of people who are in this garden.  Not just the ones in our pews, or in our faith.  Are we reaching out to them to show them the better angle for the light?  Or helping them find their Abrahamic roots to guide them to the fresh water that flows deep underneath?  Do we make sure we don’t crowd them out, suffocate them by our own growth in such a way that they are repelled by our attitudes? Our false piety?  Our overbearing attitudes?

Are we a candle in the night, a will-o-wisp dancing enticingly along the path leading them toward the true source of enlightenment?  Or are we simply a spot light, harsh and abusive, blinding the vision and scorching the eyes.  Do we help them to see for their next step toward Eternity? Or are we causing them to stumble off the path, clutching at the wounds we have caused, reeling away from the garden that they so need to be a part of? With all that in mind… am I a plant in God’s garden, or just a weed pretending to be useful, but causing more damage than I can heal?  It’s not too late… but we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow.  Now is the time of salvation, now is the time to get the Confession that the bad seed might be removed from our particular plot of soil, that we can begin to reach like a new seedling toward the light cautiously in this new world of wonder.   To stumble forward from the mediocrity of lukewarm life, and onto the path that leads down the aisle toward the Eucharist, elevated and offered for us.

Let’s not journey down that aisle alone.  Let’s reach out our hand in offering to all people, giving them generously of all the grace we have received at that Table.  Not holding on to the nourishment we have received until it rots on our limbs, falling to the ground to lay swollen and uneaten.  But freely giving of what we got from no merit of our own, pouring that grace right out onto the next plant and the next so that all of us can produce a harvest the likes no man has ever seen before.   The gathering in the barn is the goal, and no one wants to be at the wedding feast alone.  You make me more complete.  You make me better.  We are better together.  One bread.  One body.