16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A); 7-20-14
Wis 12:13,16-19; Ps 86; Rom 8:26-27; Mt 13:24-43
Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.
Jesus tells stories–lots of them. His stories are called parables. Jesus uses them to invite us into his world. He starts by having us walk around the perimeter of the story; then he draws us closer into the story. Then we get hit by a one-liner. A parable is like a joke: you either get it or you don’t. Its meaning is contained in the punchline. This mode of teaching does not lead to discussion; it’s like a Zen koan which leads to satori: it creates a flash of insight–a sudden discovery, which leads to action.
When you look at the 50 parables contained in the gospels, Jesus comes across as a challenger of our way of thinking, our way of living. Like all of his teachings, they are all about conversion, metanoia. Parables are difficult to deal with because they don’t support our prejudices, but instead they break through them. Often we tend to domesticate the parables to fit our world. Rather than accept the challenge to change radically, we can water down the Good News to a non-threatening version. We want to forget that Jesus was crucified, not because he went about telling pleasant stories on prudential wisdom, but because he was and is upsetting the system. If we allow Jesus’ parables to teach us, however, we will discover that they will reveal the true meaning of the Good News. Jesus calls us to an immediate decisiveness. He urges us to Gospel-based decisions in all aspects of our life, including our political, economic, and social milieus.
The Weeds Among the Wheat parable in today’s gospel points out the ambiguous nature of salvation: reality is a mixture of darkness and light–of weeds and wheat. The Lord is telling us to let the weeds grow amid the wheat! In time the wheat takes root and matures, then the weeds can be easily pulled out without destroying the now strong wheat.
This sounds messy, but the character of the human personality is the messy interaction between darkness and light. This parable calls us to strengthen and grow our relationship with God. This parable also calls us to recognize the darkness that dwells within each one of us: to bring it from the unconscious to the conscious level. That’s what confession is supposed to do–to help us name our demons–those forces, both personal and collective, which can seem so overwhelming. Unless we are able to name them, they’ll control us in very disguised ways. By naming these forces and shortcomings–by seeing how they influence our lives–does not take them away, but it does take away their power to destroy us and other people.
We may never get rid of our darkness entirely; it seems to just be there and comes out in full force usually in a crises. Several years ago my wife Catherine found a letter she had written to me on our first anniversary. It was a balanced missive in which she gave a “state of the marriage;” she did it in written form, because she was frustrated that I wasn’t hearing her. When some 40 years later I reread her reaction to the negative energy I brought to our fledging marriage, it was as if nothing had changed: the same sin was there today as it was then. You’d think that after 70 years of being on this planet and 45 years of marriage, that I’d have it together by now; but I don’t. I’m still working on it. To say the least, that experience was very humbling.
“Born-agains” tend to think because they “know Jesus” and are saved, they’ve overcome their sin, wherein they’ve simply repressed it. So, it’s better to name our sin, just as Catherine did for me, to face it head on, and deal with it. Hopefully over time, its influence will be lessened, especially as we focus on being in alignment with the Spirit. That’s what I believe what Jesus means when he says “let the weeds grow among the wheat.” Pray for and act on the grace to become full of the Spirit and trust at harvest time He will take care of the rest.
What I’ve come to realize is that following a spiritual path is not about repressing or willing away negative feelings and chalking up good deeds. It’s not about throwing in the towel and saying “if I can’t fix myself, what’s the use in trying?” If it were up to me, I would be in despair. But, it’s not up to me. The same God who brought Creation into being from nothing, that turned water into wine, that rose from the dead, can heal me. We are called to be holy, to sanctify our lives. I can’t make myself a Saint, but God can. And, he does it, not by getting rid of the weeds, but by sending his grace right into the messiness of our life, where we are most vulnerable. Herein lies also the value of our relationships and our Christian community: others can hold up a mirror for us and help us to see out shortcomings, and by their love, understanding, and support, they can also be the means of grace to help us out of our self-generated woes.
The brief excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Romans offers a direction. Paul suggests that the Spirit is gradually unfolding within us. The Spirit identifies with our vulnerable, tender human condition, takes it on, and comes to our assistance. The Spirit is an intermediary between the triune God and humankind. The Spirit knows what the Father’s will is and intercedes for us. The Spirit identifies with our struggle to carry the weeds/wheat tension; the Spirit identifies with our inability to articulate our struggle and simply groans with sighs too deep for words. We have the Spirit within to empower us to follow our Lord’s Way, which leads us ultimately to God.