The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time July 23, 2017
Wisdom 12, 13, 16-19 + Psalm 86 + Romans 8, 26-27 + Matthew 13, 24-43
St Joseph Parish, Norman, OK
One of the punishments I suffered as a child was pulling weeds out of the garden at our home. Mom had roses. Dad had vegetables. They both of their gardens had weeds. While down on my hands and knees in anything but a prayerful mood, I would wonder if there weeds in the Garden of Eden. I would think: if everything God made was good, what are these weeds, and why am I doing this? Then I would remember the offence that put there, and I would get all confused and just jerk off the tops leaving the roots. Fifty years later, I would still pull weeds out of Mom’s rose garden as age made it more difficult for her to keep it just the way she liked it. It was no punishment then. It was a privilege; but still I still wondered about weeds just the way this gospel invites us to do.
Who decides what is a weed and what is not a weed? A lot of people look at dandelions and think: “Weed”. It’s got to go. People who make and enjoy Dandelion Wine would disagree and hardly be motived to pull it up, and how many of us have the big grin on a child’s face who picks those yellow booms and makes a bouquet for Mom? So, the question remains, “Who decides which plant is undesirable?” When Jesus tells this parable and then discusses it with his disciples, he talks about the world with good and evil people. When Matthew retells the parable, it is to reflect upon the church with good and evil people to make the same point. The task of weeding questionable people or the task of deciding what is a weed is not part of the disciples’ job description. The landowner insists that there is to be no weeding. Everything gets a chance to grow until the harvest time, and the disciple is not the reaper.
This world, and even our church, has a lot of people who think they know just how things should be. Those “weeds” upset what they think is the way God has planned the order of things. These people are more like the Pharisees of the Gospels than those people Jesus is forming with parables like this. To them, Jesus was a problem. He ate with sinners, worked on the Sabbath, and did a lot things that to them were like blowing dandelion seeds over the perfectly lawn. I suspect that with a smile on his face, he went on to talk about a mustard seed that grows up and shelters the birds of the air. The people of his time considered the mustard plant invasive. It tended to take over everything around it. It was to them, a weed! Image them standing there shaking their heads at these images just as we might well shake our heads over our own inconsistent behavior and attitudes. Here is Jesus confusing us suggesting that there might be something good about this mustard weed.
These parables must make us wonder first about our own lives. If there are weeds to pull, let them be attitudes and behaviors within us. We all have plenty of weeds to pull, and perhaps the first is the weed of judgement about others; our quick decisions about who is good and who is bad, who belongs here and who does not, who is an alien and who is not. The Gospel today asks us to reassess all of this with the reminder that we are called to plant not to weed or reap. If there are weeds in God’s garden, there is always the chance that we planted them. Our best hope is that we are something like the mustard plant that grows to provide shelter and comfort for others in God’s creation even if some might think we are weeds because we do so. Sometimes our failures and our sins would merit us being pulled up, but the good news here is that the owner is willing to wait for us to get it right before the harvest. I have an idea that in the Garden of Eden when all was perfect there was just a lot of diversity and refreshing variety; and a “weed” was just a name for something waiting for someone to discover wine.