A boy came home from school crying. An older boy had been picking on him during recess. Because he did not want the other children to see him crying, he had held his emotions in all day. But coming home and seeing his mother, he could not hold it in any more. He sobbed uncontrollably.
It took him a while to compose himself, but finally he told his mother how the boy had teased him about his weight, called him names and pushed him. The mother promised that she would speak with the teacher, but he was afraid it would only make things worse. He would have to handle the older boy’s taunts on his own.
The next day, after school, to show his mother how he had been bullied, he began acting out what the older boy had done. He mimicked his tone of voice and the expression on his face. Every day, he would do the same thing, until after a while, they could begin to joke about it. With time, the boy even began to feel some sympathy for the bully. Imitating his words and actions began to give him some insight into the bully’s insecurities and pain which made him want to push other children around. With that, the teasing became less painful, and the bully eventually lost interest in picking on him.
This boy learned the wisdom of the Native American proverb, “Do not criticize others until you have walked a mile in their shoes.” Very often, the bad behavior of those around us is a result of the anguish, insecurity and fears that burden them. Weighed down under so much pressure, they often cannot help but lash out. We know how true that is in our own lives. When we are feeling down on ourselves, it is hard to be kind. We get so bogged down in our own problems that we cannot consider the needs of others. If we can take a little time to look at things from another person’s perspective, if we can try to understand the pain that may be causing the bad behavior, we might develop some sympathy and things may begin to turn around.
This is a reality Jesus knows very well. He became man so that he could walk in our shoes. Though He is God, He was willing to live a human life with all its difficulties, pains, anxieties and struggles. He knows through and through what it is like being human. And so He can sympathize with our weakness and have mercy on us in our sinfulness. Rather than be quick to condemn and punish us, Jesus is always ready to forgive and heal. As the first reading tells us: “You gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.”
This reality of God’s infinite mercy revealed in Jesus gives us insight into the meaning of the parable of the weeds and the wheat which we hear proclaimed in today’s gospel. As Jesus explains it, the wheat is the children of the Kingdom and the weeds are the children of the evil one. God allows them to grow together. The weeds receive the same nourishment as the wheat does. At times, the weeds are even indistinguishable from the wheat. So it is with our world. Good people do not always prosper and evil people are not always punished. We can easily be tempted into thinking that our good deeds are getting us nowhere or that the evil we commit is going unnoticed. We can wonder if God is really paying attention to what is going on down here or if He really cares.
But God sees the situation of the world much differently than we do. He looks into the heart of each person. He knows who is being sincere and who is putting up a front. He knows who is suffering and who is grieving. Many people who appear to us to be thriving are really dying on the inside. They may not seem to be suffering because of their sins, but their misdeeds are eating them up. In the same way, many people who appear to be good are hiding hearts full of rage. We cannot often tell the weeds from the wheat. But God sees it all. God sees each of us from the inside out. And so we must leave it to God to judge.
We have to be careful, however. Understanding the weaknesses of others can make it easier for us to forgive and to bear patiently with each other. But we can never allow our personal pain or insecurities to become an excuse for making bad choices. Every time we choose sin, no matter what weakness may be motivating us, we wound ourselves even further. We dig an even bigger hole for ourselves and make it that much harder to climb out. By continuing to choose sin, we keep ourselves imprisoned in fear.
God has something so much better in store for us. His mercy is not given to us to make excuses for us. His mercy is given so that we can be healed and restored to our full dignity as His children. He offers us forgiveness so that we can walk out of the prison of our shame and live confident lives. He wants to relieve the burden of our anxieties so that we can hold our head up. He offers us strength in place of our weakness, faith in place of our fear and victory in place of our defeat. He transforms the weeds in our life into wheat.
At this table, we will witness the greatest of all transformations. The gift of wheat which we will offer will become the Body of Jesus. He is the one who walked in our shoes. He knows the struggles we face and gives us nourishment to overcome them all. We offer Him all we are at this liturgy - the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the weeds and the wheat. He accepts us as we are. He understands where we are coming from. But He points the way to a future of healing and hope.