WITNESS TO JESUS
Sometimes weeds can be pretty — and maybe even nourishing! Any gardener or farmer knows that they are very common and that you don’t need an enemy to sow them. They have a way of taking root on their own and then doing their destructive work, perhaps without one knowing that they are undermining the real life-giving plants. The parable of Jesus makes clear, however, that they are destructive, and that even if they can be tolerated until the harvest, in the end, they will be destroyed and burned.
As we are reflecting upon the weeds and the wheat, the things that nourish our Christian life and the things that undermine it, we should ask for the gift of discernment so that we may always know the difference between what will bear good and nourishing fruit, and what appears pretty and may be a bit nourishing but will ultimately bring destruction.
One obvious weed that is very toxic is the scandal in the church. Sexual abuse of minors by those they should trust is one of the most toxic weeds there is. And we are ashamed and sorry that such a weed has been sown in the church, we pray for healing for all who have been hurt, and we are working to do all we can to assure that such things never happen again. However, there are those who want to use this scandal to uproot the good things the church offers, the moral compass it has become in a culture that goes whatever way it wants to go, often without regard for the sanctity of life in all its stages or for the importance of marriage and family in the lives of individuals and communities. There are those who want to pull up the weeds, but also the wheat by totally discrediting and perhaps destroying the church. We must be wary of this and resist it, as the Lord warns, so that in pulling up these very toxic weeds, we do not also pull up the wheat that gives life.
Another example of a weed occurs to me when I visit parishes. I am always very impressed by the wonderful programs that are conducted there. We have schools and religious education programs, youth ministry, programs for seniors, and outreach to the poor and hungry. We can and should be very grateful for all these nourishing experiences. But even as we enjoy them, the enemy can be secretly sowing seeds of selfishness. We can forget about those many people who are not touched by any of these good programs because they do not come to the parish.
And so the rich get richer, and those whose faith is weak have it choked off by a culture that is often contrary to the Gospel of Jesus. People forget that their spiritual enrichment is not for their sake alone but to equip them to be missionaries, taking the Gospel out to others. The good wheat of spiritual growth and enrichment can be choked off with the weeds of an inward focus, a focus that neglects mission.
Then there is the wonderfully nourishing wheat of God’s mercy and love. It is true that there is no sin beyond the mercy of God, which is manifested to us most clearly in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God is constantly laboring to bring our wayward hearts back to himself, and he is ready to forgive, even when there is only a mustard seed of repentance. But the enemy can sometimes sow a weed in the midst of this rich field of God’s mercy by trying to convince us that God is so merciful that he really does not care if we sin, that there is no need for repentance, and that God will always accept us no matter what we do.
As Jesus makes clear in today’s parable, however, there is a difference between weeds and grain, between what is good and what is bad. He wants to preserve the good and sometimes tolerates the bad, but in the end the weeds are gathered up and burned in an unquenchable fire. So we must be very wary and discerning, so that we are not choked off by the lie of the enemy that repentance is not needed. Because, of course, if repentance is not needed, there is no need for a Savior, and Jesus himself would become superfluous. This is exactly the plan of the enemy of our souls, to convince us that we can do it on our own and have no need for Jesus to be our Savior.
In many instances in life, God has blessed us with great blessings, with the good seed he has sown in the ground of our lives. Yet the enemy may always come to sow seeds of destruction. Sometimes they look as toxic as they are, but sometimes they can be more deceiving. It is Jesus who urges us to be discerning about what are truly weeds and what are life-giving grains, so that preserving what is good and letting him burn away the evil, we may be gathered forever to him and may call others as well to his great harvest of love.