This homily appeared in Connect! magazine
Anyone who has ever taken care of a lawn or tended a garden knows how dangerous weeds can be. Whether it is crabgrass or dandelions, not only are weeds ugly, but they leech nutrients and minerals from the good plantings. The only solution is to pull them up from the roots or poison them with chemicals. There is a risk to these treatments, however. Very often, in trying to uproot the weeds, some of the good grass is pulled up leaving an ugly bald spot on the lawn. And, with chemical treatments, the good plants can also be poisoned along with the weeds leaving an unsightly burn mark behind. Once weeds take root, they are very difficult to extricate from a lawn or garden.
In today's gospel reading, Jesus tells the parable of a landowner whose wheat field becomes infested with weeds. The weeds which Jesus describes, which Bible scholars sometimes translates as "darnel", are not the type of weed which farmers can recognize right away. Unlike a dandelion or crabgrass, darnel mixes in with the wheat. It is not until the crop matures and starts to yield grain that you can tell the wheat from the weeds. Because the crop is already so far along, the landowner fears that ripping up the weeds will do damage to the wheat. He is content to wait until harvest time rather than risk ruining any of his crop.
Jesus tells us this story to teach us something about God and about how He manages the world. As Jesus explains, the field is the world and all the people in it. The wheat represents good people and the weeds represent bad people. Like the landowner in the parable, God does not act right away to pull up the weeds. But God's failure to act does not mean that he is not offended by our sinfulness, and it certainly is not a sign of weakness. Rather God waits patiently for sinners to repent and to change their ways. As we hear in the first reading from the book of Wisdom, God shows his power not in his willingness to punish but in his willingness to forgive. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son and the shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep, God does not want to lose any person he has created. And so, he deals patiently with sinners in hopes that they will recognize his love and turn to him for pardon. God gives each of us the time we need to turn to him for forgiveness.
There is a good reason for God's patience. Unlike the landowner in Jesus' parable, God has the power to change weeds into wheat. God can work in our heart, helping us to recognize the error of our sinful ways and calling us to embrace the love he offers us. Saint Paul alludes to this in the second reading. None of us is able to pray as we ought. We get distracted or fail to make the time necessary for God. Nonetheless, God's Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness by interceding for us. The Holy Spirit is within us as we pray so that our prayer can become acceptable to God. Just so, the Holy Spirit is working in our hearts and minds calling us to be holy and transforming us from weeds which are useless and harmful into wheat which provides food for the world. As long as we are alive, God never gives up on any of us but is always trying to find ways to get our attention so that we can become a shining harvest for him.
There is another way we can understand Jesus' parable. The field can represent not only the world, but each of us. Each of us is a mixture of good and bad. There is some wheat in us and some weeds. We love, but we also have resentments. We forgive some people, but judge others. We may wonder why God allows us to be so weak in some areas of our life. Could it be that, like the landowner in the gospel, God is allowing some weeds to grow within us? Could it be that God is trying to teach us something through our weakness and our temptations? Very often, God allows some failures in our life to keep us from getting proud. There is no weed which is as dangerous to our spiritual life as pride is. It is the sin which made the devil himself fall from heaven. If it were not for our sinfulness, we could begin to think that we were better than others. We could even begin to think that we had no need for our heavenly Father. If it were not for our weakness, we would not know how the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, as Saint Paul tells us. If it were not for our human frailty, we might not turn to God at all. And so, God can allow some weeds in the garden of our heart to remind us that it is he who is the landowner and that he is the one who makes our garden grow.
Because God wants us to be saved, he is patient with us. He gives us the time we need to recognize our sinfulness and to turn to him in repentance. As we receive the gift of finest wheat, Jesus' Body in the form of bread, we must pray that we never become discouraged by the evil we see in the world or the evil we see in ourselves. In our weakness, we must pray to understand that God's purpose is somehow being served despite the sinfulness we see around us and in us. If we can entrust ourselves to God in our weakness, then he will transform us into wheat to feed the world. And, when God finally comes to reap his harvest, we will have confidence that he will gather us up to the reward he has prepared for us.