From where I am standing, I see a congregation of very different types of people.
Some of us are attentive, listening to every word. Others of us are distracted, preoccupied with other things. Some of us have gathered here out of a burning love for God and desire to grow in knowledge of Him. Others of us are here to fulfill our weekly obligation. Some of us are on fire for the word of God and want to share it with others. Others of us are afraid what people will think if we talk too much about our beliefs. Some of us are eager to volunteer to further the mission of the parish whereas others of us are content to show up on Sundays and other feasts. Some of us are gentle and kind to those who are struggling with their faith while others of us can be judgmental and cold. Looking out on this assembly of very different people, we see both wheat and weeds.
However, when I look within myself, I also see a divided and conflicted person. There are times when I have great zeal for prayer and works of mercy. There are other times when my focus is on how I can make myself most comfortable. There are moments when I want to help others and other moments when I just want to help myself. At times I can feel confident in my faith and other times when I can be wracked with doubts. Some days I can treat those who believe differently than I with compassion and other days that I am quick to judge them. When I look within myself, I see both weeds and wheat.
And, if you are like me, when you look within yourselves, you see the same.
As a community of believers, the parable in today’s gospel has much to teach us about loving and accepting one another. The type of weed that is sown in the garden by the enemy is called “darnell”. When it is first growing, it is virtually indistinguishable from wheat. If the servants had gone out too early to pull it up, it is very likely that they would have mistaken some of the wheat for weeds and ruined the harvest. It is also very likely that they would have missed some of the weeds, mistaking them for wheat, and allowed them to grow. In either case, trying to pull up the weeds too early would only make matters worse. The master was wise enough to know that only when a plant is fully mature, when its fruit begins to appear, can we judge whether it is good or bad.
And so, looking out upon our sisters and brothers who have joined us for prayer, we may be tempted to judge one another immaturely. We may be tempted to draw conclusions about them, even subconsciously, based on the way they are dressed, by how they conduct themselves or by how often we see them at Mass. However, we must always remember that looks are deceiving. The person who appears to not care about how he is dressed may be struggling financially. The person who appears to be distracted may be anguished over the health of a loved one. The one who only shows up occasionally to Mass may be working several jobs. And the cranky old man might be suffering mightily from arthritis or other ailments. All of us are a combination of wheat and weeds. Only God can look past the appearances to the heart. For our part, we can only accept and love one another just as we are, with our strengths and weaknesses, our blessings and our curses.
I want to address some words especially to the young people who are praying with us today. Your joy, idealism and enthusiasm are such gifts to our community of faith. We need your involvement to keep our parish energized and alive. I know that there are times, however, when you feel frustrated because we older folk are not always the best examples to you. Too often we are afraid of change and unwilling to try new things. Sadly, you too often feel judged by us when you express your feelings and beliefs. Too often you have been treated more like weeds than wheat. I want to apologize to you and encourage you to keep on contributing your talents and insights to our community despite the obstacles. We desperately need your friendship and input if we are to grow to be all that Christ dreams we can be.
At the same time, I want to offer you a challenge. In the idealism of youth it is easy to fall into the trap of judging others to be hypocrites, especially when they do not seem to share your values or passion for goodness. However, this is a very subtle trap that the evil one sets for young people. It is very easy to fall into the temptation of judging others for being judgmental. When we do that, we are being hypocrites ourselves, doing the very thing that we are condemning. Just as you would want us to be patient and gentle with you, we ask the same courtesy. We are in this together, imperfect people, wheat and weeds, all striving to know and do God’s will to the best of our ability. We need each other and will only make progress as a community once we stop judging each other and learn to love and accept one another.
The same is true of the world that lies beyond the walls of this church building. It is a mixture of wheat and weeds. It is up to us to bring the love of God to our conflicted and divided world. To strengthen us for such a daunting task, our Heavenly Father gives us the best of wheat, the Body of Christ broken for us so that we may be made whole. Though He is perfect, He is patient with our imperfections and teaches us to be merciful to others so that they too may experience in us the love that Christ longs to share with a broken world.