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Wheat and weeds

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Gospel Commentary July 19, Mt 13:24-43

Isaiah Chapter 55 says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways” (55:8). This reminder the Lord gives us through his prophet may well resound in our minds as we consider the Gospel passage for the 16th week in ordinary time. In this text, Christ makes clear that though the wicked certainly grow among the good in the field of the world, he is the one who will separate them out at the end of time, and it is not ours to root them out at will.

This stands in direct contradiction of worldly wisdom in our current age. So often we hear calls for immediate justice, that all those who do what is unjust be brought to light, punished and, if necessary, removed from our society. We live and move in a world that demands the removal of all those who stand against the more perfect human community of which we dream. On a smaller scale, the world tells us that we are right to remove people from our lives who contradict our feelings and beliefs, that we have no obligation to interact with anyone we find consistently unpleasant, indeed — that we may freely cancel whomever we please in the pursuit of our own happiness. The desire of the servants to rush immediately into the field so they can pull up the offending weeds is familiar to us.

And yet Christ tells them, and us, that it would be wrong to pull the weeds from among the wheat. When we honestly confront this teaching, we may wonder what exactly the Lord has in mind. Does he not want justice in the world? Would he rather that we allow injustice and falsehood to fester until the end of time? Christ himself knows our fear, and explains that we must not pull up the weeds because we “might uproot the wheat along with them.”

There are several ways in which an unbridled zeal for justice can indeed do damage even to good people.  First, it is difficult to tell the difference between weeds and wheat while they are still growing. If we pull up whatever we think might be evil at first glance, we may find ourselves misjudging and going after the innocent, harming the reputations or spiritual lives of people we simply had not understood correctly.  Tearing up the weeds also damages the ground in which the wheat grows. Moral panics and revolutions of every age, while perhaps gaining something for the strong who survive the time of turmoil, often harm the weak and innocent, making it more difficult for the average person to live a good life, rather than easier. Finally, those who enact justice too harshly and too freely often find that they themselves have become warped in the process, having taken on a role that not only belongs to God, but which only God has the knowledge and power to accomplish. While the eternal God can enact both exact perfect justice and total mercy, we who are smaller often forget mercy in pursuit of total justice. We perhaps forget that it is love of each person, good and evil alike, that motivates both justice and mercy in our God, and that only love for both our friends and our enemies will heal our souls and aid the salvation of the world.

The Lord will indeed bring all things to justice in the end, bringing down and punishing all evil, no matter how hidden, and rewarding all good, no matter how forgotten. We do not need to worry about whether or not he will take care of the order of the world. We can entrust that grand future to him, knowing that by showing charity to our neighbor in the present, we assist him in the way he desires.

Fr. Rampino is parochial vicar of Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020