Sixteenth Sunday of the Year. Fr Isidore Clarke warns us against premature judgement.
What should we do about the weeds? That's a problem facing every farmer and gardener -- a problem that Jesus uses in one of today's Gospel parables. We're told about the darnel growing in the midst of the crop sown by the farmer. Through this parable Jesus confronts a problem which besets the Kingdom of God in every age, including today's.
Weeds have a habit of growing amidst any seed we've sown, no matter how well we've prepared the soil. They seem to be more robust than our plants; perversely, the weeds choke their growth. They are an unwanted, destructive nuisance.
These agricultural parables are all variations on the theme of the sowing of the Word of God. Applying this to the Church here on earth it's only too obvious that it's a mixture of good and bad people. We know only too well that serious sinners can do great harm to good people, especially the young. Their behaviour can be a scandal, leading some to want nothing more to do with religion. While books, the media and information technology produce so much that is innocent and wholesome, they also purvey much that is unsavoury and damaging.
Our present parable about the weeds raises the question as to how the Church should deal with these threats to the Good News taking root and growing. Some would be like the impetuous servants in the parable. They would weed out the destructive sinner. Then, they hope, the Kingdom here on earth would consist only of good, holy people, with no room for sinner. Naturally they would include themselves among this elite band of Christ's faithful followers!
But in this parable that's not Christ's approach. Like the wise farmer, he realises that in pulling up the weeds he could do more harm than good. The same happens when people try to suppress unsavoury and harmful ideas. Banning a book or film will only give it unwanted publicity and increase its number of viewers.
Obviously there are exceptions -- some material is so harmful that it must be suppressed, in order to protect the most vulnerable. But in general, when freedom of speech is denied then dictators flourish. Such a ruthless reaction can be counter-productive. It can destroy the very thing we want to preserve -the freedom to sow and cultivate the Word of God.
So, like the wise farmer, Jesus urges patience -- a theme common to several of these parables about cultivation. Jesus takes up the two time-perspectives of the farmer. The first is that of sowing and growing; the second that of harvesting, judgement and sorting.
We are living in the first era of the Kingdom. In this we must be prepared for a mixture of good and bad people, saints and sinners. Like the farmer, we can be mistaken in distinguishing the one from the other. Our judgement is not sound enough to be certain. In an impetuous zeal for a purge we may uproot the good with the bad, or even instead of the bad. That would be a serious injustice.
So Jesus urges a patience which Peter's 2nd Letter develops. He sees God's delay in passing judgement and sorting out the good from the bad as a sign of his loving mercy. 'The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.' He wants to give the sinner the grace and time to repent and become a saint, the noxious weed to become a fruitful plant. Unfortunately that doesn't happen in farming!
In the meantime Paul urges us to wait till the second and final era of harvest time. Then the Lord of the Harvest will pass the final judgement. He alone is qualified to distinguish with certainty the good from the bad: 'Therefore do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.'