Weeds

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 (Isaiah 44:6-8, Psalm 86:11-17, Romans 8:12-25)

“Some of the members of our Church are as useless as weeds: How and when are we to rid ourselves of them?”  That is the implicit question that this week’s Gospel text explicitly answers.  Scholars argue that Matthew’s Gospel was written after the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD.  So, Matthew’s Church (the community of the faithful) had experienced considerable growth as the Jewish diaspora spread throughout the Mediterranean. Soon thereafter, the Church noticed that these Christians were not – as at first glance – identical in beliefs and practice to the existing community.  This is one explanation of the “field” in today’s parable:

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well (Matthew 13:24b-26).

In truth, not much has changed in 2000 years.  The Church continues to be populated by a diverse group of sinners.  (Paul describes us more lyrically, as earthen vessels containing a rich treasure, in 2 Corinthians 4:7).  Certainly, we often fail to live up to our high calling.  (Or, as one scholar dryly puts it: “We wrestle with the paradoxical nature of the Church and the contradictory forces at work within it.”).  At the very least, we can agree that each of us are shaped by the changes and chances of our lives; that we are no blank slate, but rather wounded people seeking healing; and that our scar tissue often influences the way in which live in community, one with another.  (The following cartoon describes this reality a wee bit more bluntly!): 

Certainly, this leads to tensions.  But no more than those displayed in this week’s parable:

Waiting & Judgement

Gathering & Separation

Preservation & Destruction

The weeds which we are so intent upon uprooting are described as zizanlon, a weed now known as Darnal, which looks identical to wheat in its early growth period.  A few such weeds in a field are no problem.  Sure, you may lose some wheat while tearing them up (mistakes happen!) but no big deal.  However, a field full of wheat and weeds is another matter: The crop may be destroyed in the process.  In fact, such was the potential devastation of such a scenario that Roman law punished offenders severely for deliberately contaminating a field with such weeds.

Given the potential for the inadvertent destruction of the good along with the bad, Jesus’ advice is clear: Allow the Lord of the Harvest to take care of the weeds at the time of the harvest (the close of the age).  This eschatological approach has several advantages:

● Given our track record, leave it to the experts.  After all, look at what we did to Jesus! We can be pretty reckless when it comes to destroying those who are not like us.

● As the Rolling Stones might put it: Time is on my (our) side, yes it is! The old liturgy addresses this in the words of absolution: “May the Almighty and merciful Lord grant unto you pardon, remission of all your sins, time for true repentance, amendment of life, and the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit” (my emphasis).  In other words, given that we are, each of us, a “work in progress,” we should be appreciative of additional time in which to make such progress.  

● The sin and brokenness of the other ought to remind us of our shared brokenness.  (A mirror, not an occasion for schadenfreude.)

● As much as we would like to pretend that church is a social or country club, this shared brokenness reminds us – as Pope Francis would put it – that the Church is in fact a field hospital.  If we do not recognize this reality our wounds will go untreated; and our anger and frustration at the imbalance of the membership dues and membership benefits will rise.

● How else will Jesus recognize us, other than as broken human beings, struggling to live in community with other broken human beings, for the sake of the world?  I am reminded (thanks to Wikipedia) of the entombment of Otto Von Hapsburg, Crown Prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  He died in 2011 after a long period of public service following the fall of the empire at the conclusion of World War One.  The procession of mourners arrived at the gates of the Capuchin Church, under which lies the Imperial Crypt, and the Herald knocked on the door. A Capuchin asked, “Who demands entry?”  The Herald responded, “Franz Joseph Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Xavier Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius von Habsburg, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria; Apostolic King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia and Lodomeria; King of Jerusalem etc.; Archduke of Austria; Grand Duke of Tuscany and Cracow; Duke of Lorraine, Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola and Bukowina; Grand Prince of Transylvania, Margrave of Moravia; Duke of Silesia, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Guastalla, Auschwitz and Zator, Teschen, Friuli, Dubrovnik and Zadar; Princely Count of Habsburg and Tyrol, of Kyburg, Gorizia and Gradisca; Prince of Trent and Brixen; Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia and Istria; Count of Hohenems, Feldkirch, Bregenz, Sonnenburg etc.; Lord of Trieste, Kotor and the Windic March, Grand Voivod of the Voivodeship of Serbia etc.”  The Capuchin responded, “We don’t know him.” The same procedure was repeated. On the third attempt, when the Herald responded with, “A sinful, mortal human being,” the gates were opened, and Otto was admitted into the Crypt.