Don’t be too quick to pull the weeds

A few weeks ago, I was meeting with my spiritual director and during our conversation we did an exercise where she asked me to explain what clergy do to a Martian. My initial response was that clergy are people who help other people be the people they are supposed to be. To which she responded, what are people? I explained that people are beings like me, she is a Martian and I am one of many people. She then asked, what people supposed to be? My response was that people are beings that are supposed to love and help other people.

In today’s parable the Master indicates that the weeds should be allowed to grow with the wheat because if the weeds are removed then the wheat may be damaged. At face value it appears that this parable is about the end times when the angels will separate the believers from the non-believers, but I caution us from jumping to that conclusion. I caution us about assuming that there is such a thing as those that are in and those that are out, and I do so because binary thinking is not only dangerous, but it is usually wrong. It is natural for us to want to have clarity and on the surface this parable provides that, the people who follow the rules, the wheat, will enter the Kingdom and the people who don’t, the weeds, will not; and the slaves, who represent us, want to hurry up and get rid of the weeds, the people that do not fit our vision of who belongs. God has been lovingly tolerating humanity far longer than we ever will and it is not our job to decide who belongs; our job is to love each other like Jesus did, which to go back to the Martian discussion, is what it means to be a person. The hardest part of this whole situation is that we do not naturally love each other, often we just tolerate each other and try our best not to exclude the people that annoy us the most. So on one hand we know it is so much easier to just do what feels right in the moment, to just take care of ourselves and the people who are closest to us; but on the other hand our entire faith tradition says that we are supposed to do the complete opposite; we are supposed to give aid and comfort to everyone, no matter what; we are supposed to include everyone, no matter what, we are supposed to love everyone, no matter what. Jesus is the prime example of this. He knew that one of his friends would betray him to his enemies and yet he still sat down and ate dinner with him on the very day that the betrayal was going to happen; Jesus even gave him leave to do it, telling him to do it quickly. Every week we confess that we have sinned, in thought word and deed and we say that we are sorry for doing so, which I am sure is true even though we probably haven’t really thought about what we did or didn’t do and why those things might be sins. I also suspect that it isn’t very long before we turn right around and commit the very same sins we just said we were sorry for doing. I certainly don’t make it a day before I am right back at it, and I would be very surprised if anyone could claim that they make it longer than that because if any person can go longer than a day without sinning then they can’t be human because sinning is just what we do.

Earlier I cautioned us about binary thinking because it can lead to misinterpretation and inaccurate assumptions. The reason the master, who is God, said to leave the weeds is because he knew that some of those weeds might actually turn out to be wheat. There are many plants in my garden that I mistake, every year, but I leave them because I suspect that they might be flowers and when they do flower I am grateful that I left them; It is also worth mentioning that a weed is only a plant growing in a location you do not want it to be in. It is very possible to cultivate a weed into a beautiful thing, but it takes time and that is what God in their infinite patience realizes. The process of becoming people of love takes time and if we kick people to the side too soon then they will not have the chance to grow into the people God intends them to be, and if in the end they don’t “make it” that is between God and them. So, the only weeding or dividing, we can, or even should do, is within ourselves. We need to look deep into our souls and weed out those traits of our character that inhibit our ability to love like God. A good friend of mine quoted Daniel Berrigan, who was a Jesuit priest, the other night and for some reason this quote stuck with me. He said, “If you are going to follow Jesus, you better look good on wood.” Let me repeat that, “If you are going to follow Jesus, you better look good on wood.” The message of Jesus was radical. It was radical two thousand years ago and it is radical today because it is contrary to human nature and that is the point. Jesus was nailed to a piece of wood because he told people to love each other and that idea was so radical, so contrary to the way his society thought, that they killed him. You see, Jesus was killed because people thought he did not belong, they thought he was the weed. Whether we are a weed or wheat does not matter because we are all children of God and we are all loved wholly and equally, even though we are really bad at loving other people. Jesus was willing to die for his radical message of love; he was willing to look good on the wood, are we ready for that? Are we ready to love so deeply that we will face death on the cross for that love? My guess is no, and in the end I don’t think it matters, what does matter is that we try to love each other, and when we fall short, not if, but when, we work even harder to make sure that we don’t fall short again.