17 July 2010
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sinners and Saints, Strange Bedfellows:
The Mystery of the Weeds and the Wheat
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
A woman has not been attending Church for a quite a period of time. One day her pastor visited her and invited her to go back, “ I haven’t seen you in a while. Your usual seat has been vacant. It is still there for you.” Sternly, the woman replied, “ I will not go back to Church. The Church is full of sinners and hypocrites!” The priest calmly responded, “ If the Church is the spotless and perfect community that you think it is, you will never be invited there.”
Like a broken record, we hear that oft-repeated mantra, “There are so many hypocrites inside that Church.” I remember Fulton Sheen sharing once that after being told the same line, he responded, “So why don’t you come to Church, so that there will be one less hypocrite in that community?”
Is it really because there are sinners in the Church that we do not attend Church worship or we just invoke it as a convenient excuse to “justify” our absence in Church?
The Church is not a community of perfect, spotless and unblemished persons. The Church is not a community of saints. It is a community of imperfect, blemished sinners trying their best to become less imperfect, less blemished. The Church is a community of sinners trying its best to become saints.
Today’s Gospel, the parable of the weeds and the wheat in the Gospel of Matthew is the Christian proposal to understanding this paradox. The parable is as simple as it gets. But it is likewise so rich it addresses many questions of our day. I choose only one in this reflection. God is the sower, the world is the field. God sows the wheat seeds of His kingdom in the world. Alongside the wheat grows the weeds. The wheat symbolizes the good. The weed symbolizes the bad. Weed and wheat grow together. There is evil and good in the world.
Our usual attitude before evil is illustrated by the servants’ hasty proposal to the master “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” The Master is more wise and discerning. He proposes to wait until harvest time. It is not easy to identify the weeds from the wheat early on. Hasty uprooting might destroy both weeds and the wheat.
We are indignant towards evil. We are impatient towards the sin. But this indignance and impatience can easily become prejudice and self-righteousness. The past week, officials of the PCSO imputed some members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines of wrongdoing in accepting what was projected to be luxury vehicles for their own use. Soon after, a hail of invectives and ridicule was thrown towards the 7 bishops. They were publicly persecuted and vilified. At the Senate hearing, it was proven that there were no luxury vehicles after all but utility vehicles requested to reach far-flung and mountainous areas of their dioceses. It was shown that there was malice on the part of some officials to put the bishops in a bad light by imputing ill motive on the honest request for assistance. The bishops were vindicated and the agency that began the demolition job is now the one under investigation for wide scale corruption and irregularities.
This is the reason why the owner of the field in the parable stopped the hasty uprooting of the “weeds”. Human judgment is fallible. It is subject to errors. It can even be malicious and ill motivated. This is also the reason why the Church teaches that the death penalty (uprooting of the weeds) is incompatible to real justice. While jail punishment and incarceration even for life is legitimate, the withholding of the death penalty leaves room for the fallibility of human judgment and the justice system.
On another note, how does a believer make sense of evil even within the Church community? I propose that the parable asks us for a wider perspective and greater patience.
A wider perspective: I will be dating myself here but in the early 80’s there is a song that goes,
“It’s a lover not love who broke your heart last night.
It’s a lover not dream that didn’t work out right.
If you listen to your heart, O you know it’s true.
It’s a lover not love who deserted you.”
May I rephrase that song for the purpose of this reflection? When we see evil in the Church, in the priesthood, in our Christian community let us not forget: It’s a priest not the priesthood that has gone wrong. It’s a churchman not the Church that is evil.
Similarly, a greater patience before the reality of evil allows me to realize that the priesthood is greater than an individual priest and the Church is more vast than a churchman. The sower is in charge.
In the meantime, I become patient with my own falls and failures. I won’t distance myself from the Church of Christ. I keep prodding on in this community of sinners trying its best to become saints. I look at the Mary Magdalenes, the Pauls, the Simon Peters, the Augustines, the countless sinners of salvation history who are now saints. With the grace of Christ’s Church, I remind myself that every saint has a sinful past and every sinner has a saintly future.
Let us go onward to our common future!