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Patience and Purification

The 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I hope none of you ever look at the rectory’s fenced in back yard for at least a few years. When I came here it had the chicken coop and was mostly just mulch for the chickens to roam around in. Personally I’m not into raising chickens, so it’s been my little project to transform that backyard into a garden. Last summer I had to let everything grow out to see what few plants were even there, and this summer I got a few more plants established, figured out in my head how the sun hits different parts of throughout the day, and so on. But the weeds. The weeds are unending because so much of it I haven’t established many plants yet. So I have to laugh at this gospel and the thought of a neighbor deliberately tossing some seeds over the fence just to mess with me.

Thankfully my backyard neighbors are nice, but if you can believe it in the ancient world it was something people actually did to their personal enemies. It was so common there was a Roman law forbidding the sabotage of agricultural fields by planting darnel. I have no idea what darnel is or what it looks like, but the important thing is that it’s poisonous. These weeds among the wheat weren’t just an inconvenience like the weeds in our gardens, or a plant taking some nutrition away from the soil and make the wheat not grow as well… they were poison, they were meant to ruin the entire crop by being mixed into the harvest. So you can understand why there is such utter destruction of the weeds, not just being separated from the wheat but being tossed into the furnace and used for fuel. The weed that would poison the harvest has to be completely destroyed in the end, lest the harvest be ruined. A cop who violently uses his power and poisons the entire department, the priest that abuses someone and poisons the Church, the politician that is corrupt and unethical and poisons the government… these weeds grow alongside the wheat but once it is the day of harvest, once it is clear what is mature wheat and what is a grown weed, the weeds must be separated out or the harvest is poisoned.

The children of the evil one will be tossed into the fiery furnace with wailing and gnashing of teeth… but the scriptures today are actually more about a very important quality of God as the merciful judge of our souls: patience. Before it is clear what is a weed and what is wheat, the Lord of the household has patience. He tells his slaves to be patient, to let the weeds grow with the wheat because otherwise they might pull out some of the young wheat by mistake. The mustard seed needs patience to change from a tiny seed into a large plant. The woman must have patience as the yeast leavens her flour. The result of all that patience is abundance. The farmer has a larger yield of wheat because none of it was uprooted by accident. The mustard plant becomes so large that birds nest in it’s branches. Three measures of flour when leavened is enough bread for a large feast.

And not just the gospel but all the readings today give us this same message: yes there is sin and yes there is judgment, but our God seeks not to condemn but to make us His own. In the first reading Wisdom said that “though you, Lord, are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us.” The responsorial psalm of the day says, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity.” The second reading said that the Spirit will aid our weakness and groan for us and the one who searches hearts will hear that intercession. There is right and wrong in this world. There is such a thing as sin and judgment. And our God is the one who would take our hand, who would sit patiently with us as we struggle to live his commandments.

So tend to the field of your own soul. In your life there is life giving, nourishing wheat, which we call virtue. With every act of kindness, with every restraint of anger and jealousy, with every loving action you have done you have fostered that life of virtue and helped the wheat take root. But at the same time the poison of sin, the weeds that would ruin our harvest, creep into our lives as well. Little actions, selfishness, lies, gossip, these things are what plant those weeds. Have a patience with yourself, but don’t let those weeds remain once you know what they are. Always watch over your field and question: is this wheat or is this weed, is this virtue or is this vice, is this life or is this death?


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