When I was growing up, my parents did a beautiful job landscaping around my childhood home. We had all sorts of incredible trees and shrubs everywhere… cherry trees, cypress, crape myrtles, magnolia, rhododendron… you name it, we probably had it growing somewhere.
And my parents did a fantastic job taking care of everything. …Keeping the plants healthy and nourished… fertilizing, mulching, trimming, and of course… weeding.
Our yard was gorgeous. It was pristine. It could have easily been on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens magazine…
Some of the other houses in our neighborhood, however? Not so much! — Plants were neglected, wild and untrimmed. The mulch was grey and faded. The lawn messy and overgrown. Weeds dominated the landscape beds… We’d drive by and look at those yards thinking: “What a mess!”
Now, maybe you’re hearing all this and thinking: “But Father Anthony, you just described my yard!”
Well that’s not the point! The point I’m trying to get to is this:
We might have expected Jesus to say something more like this in today’s Gospel teaching: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like… a PRISTINE, well-tended garden, green and healthy, perfectly trimmed, flourishing without a weed in sight. Pure. Proper. Perfect.”
That would have been really nice. I’d personally much prefer a perfect Church, with no sin. No problems. No division. No heresy.
Jesus paints a much different picture in His parable this weekend:
The Church is riddled with weeds! It looks less like the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, and more like one of those houses you drive by thinking to yourself: “WHAT A MESS!”
It turns out…God has a messy yard.
It’s a messy Church!
But as we learn in the parable of the Weeds in the Field — The Lord wasn’t the one who planted all those weeds.
When the servants ask: “’Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?” — He replies with clarity and calm simplicity: “An enemy has done this.”
How did this happen? Well, it was done while everyone was sleeping…
The devil always prefers to work under cover of darkness, doesn’t he? He thrives best in the shadows… under the cloak of confusion. As GK Chesterton once said: “Evil always takes advantage of ambiguity.” Satan and his fellow apostate angels do their greatest damage when we’re not looking… when we’re not watchful… in the middle of the night, which is so often a symbol for the presence and action of evil. After all, Judas left the Last Supper to go and betray Jesus… and it was night.
So, now that the enemy seems to have managed to screw up the Lord’s field, what do we do about this mess?
Our instinct, of course, is to get right to work ripping out weeds, right? Let’s fix this! No time to lose! Let’s undo what the enemy did IMMEDIATELY.
…And that’s exactly what the servants in the parable want to do…
‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ they ask.
I’m reminded here of that other passage from Luke’s gospel, where after Jesus was rejected, the disciples ask Him: “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”
In other words… Do you want us to clean up this MESS? Can we go ahead and uproot all these weeds?
But then comes the great twist.
The Master replies: “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest.”
I know that I hear that and I think: “Wait, what? You want to leave it a MESS? Are you SURE God? Don’t You want to clean up Your Church RIGHT THIS INSTANT????”
Now, at this point, I’d just like to pause to explain something that I think we often miss. What Jesus is promoting in this parable is NOT a kind of lazy apathy towards evil and error. We can and should identity and seek to lessen the effects of evil in the world (and in the Church) today.
For example, we need to ELIMINATE and PREVENT all forms of abuse inside and out of the Church. We need to work to reduce poverty, hunger and homelessness. We need to raise awareness of and put a stop to the horrendous evil of human trafficking, of selling children into slavery… If you haven’t yet seen Sound of Freedom, I highly recommend it. Heart-breaking, but excellent film.
Jesus also isn’t saying we should be passively idle when it comes to harmful ideas — incorrect doctrines — Heretical views that would lead people away from the Truth, away from Jesus, and undermine the Gospel.
The Church has a long and storied history of doing just this — of clarifying and defining true teaching for the benefit and salvation of souls.
What were the Ecumenical Councils but a dramatic series of theological battles, inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit to directly confront and reject erroneous ideas? Arianism was wrong… so the Church condemned it. Nestorianism was wrong… so the Church condemned it. Docetism, Marcionism, Pelagianism, Adoptionism, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura were all wrong… so the Church condemned them.
You can look all these heresies up later on Wikipedia, but the point is this:
The parable of the weeds among the wheat does NOT give us permission to allow evil, error, and heresy to have free reign within the world and the Church.
Jesus himself warns us: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.” And again: “See that no one deceives you.”
Saint Paul tells us elsewhere in Sacred Scripture “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles, in opposition to the teaching that you learned; avoid them.”
In the first letter of St John, we read: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
All of this is to say:
We are allowed to, and as a Church, we OUGHT to accurately and prudently identify and root out errors and sins.
But we should never condemn individual persons or groups.
We should never label a human being or a group of human beings as definitively “weeds” that need to be gotten rid of.
That’s not our job. We don’t have the luxury of being ale to neatly divide the world into “us the saved” and “them the damned.”
No… we leave that judgment up to God at the end of time.
We know that one day, the harvest will happen…and there WILL be a separation — the wheat from the weeds. The sheep from the goats. The children of the Kingdom from the children of the devil…He will send His holy angels to carry out that judgment at the end of time — They will reap the harvest. And the weeds will be collected in bundles to be burned, and the wheat will be gathered into the Lord’s barn.
But that job is not for us to take upon ourselves.
In the meantime, God’s patience is directed towards salvation. The Lord will offer every single person on this planet sufficient opportunity for their conversion and salvation.
St. Jerome, the famous biblical scholar, once interpreted this parable of the Weeds and Wheat saying: “We are warned that we should not hastily cut off a brother, since one who is today corrupted with an erroneous dogma, may grow wiser tomorrow, and begin to defend the truth.”
I know I look back on my own past — and I, for one, am so grateful that I was not “uprooted” too early. I’m grateful that I was, by God’s mercy, allowed to “grow together” for a while in the Church, despite the bad ideas and erroneous thoughts I had picked up from the world…
Because eventually… God converted me! He drew me out of my error, and set my feet on solid ground! The bright light of TRUTH broke into my heart, and the Holy Spirit convinced me that the Gospel was worth believing in!
Imagine if someone had come along and ripped me out of the ground thinking… “Wow, look at this weed! Let’s get rid of him! The Church doesn’t want THIS GUY around!” …if that had happened, I wouldn’t be a priest standing at this pulpit today, doing my best to share and defend the Truth of Jesus with you.
So, suffice to say: I’m thankful God was so incredibly patient with me.
I’m grateful He has been so patient with me and all my mess.
If you’re sitting there in your pew, feeling like you’re a total and complete mess… then guess what: God is beautifully PATIENT with messes.
He is not rash. His invitation to repent and grow in holiness never tramples us or damages us in the uprooting. His ways are gentle and firm. His timing is perfect. His holy will is clear and good. He is a Master Gardener, but His ways are not our ways.
His Hands are wise and calm enough not to overzealously rip up weeds here and there, and maybe do more harm than good… He gives all of us plenty of time, freedom, and grace to convert — and He fully intends to make us saints by the end.
As our first reading from the book of Wisdom put it so well: “Your mastery over all makes you lenient to all.” And “you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.”
This is such great news. God is absolutely in control. He has mastery over all things!
He is not threatened at all by the evil in the world or in the Church.
Let me say that again for anyone here who might be anxious or worried when they look at the state of the world or the Church:
God… is not… worried.
Evil does not stand a chance.
The enemy is busy sowing a lot of weeds these days, but it’s a waste of time. Because we know how the story ends.
The mess WILL be cleaned up and sorted out.
The gates of Hell will not prevail.
Now more than ever, we need to trust. We need to intercede for the Church, for our families, for teenagers, for priests, for bishops and cardinals, for the pope… we need to GROAN with inexpressible groanings in the Spirit as we wait for God’s ultimate victory.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.