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July, 23 2017

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Deacon Dave Shea, DMin

Whoever has ears ought to hear.” What does that mean? Our master doesn’t always explain what he says when he gives us instructions. It’s not easy being a slave; having to always do what you’re told even when you don’t understand and don’t agree. “Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then, where have the weeds come from?” The master explains that during the dark of night, his enemy sabotaged the field by planting weeds . . . tiny awful seeds of problems and strife. So all we want to do is make things right—“Do you want us to go out into the field and rip out those weeds . . . and anything else we might tear up in the process?  Turn us loose on that field and there’s no telling what we’ll chop down and what we’ll spare.” Why, the weeds even look like wheat and it’s almost impossible to tell one from the other. And they’re nasty stuff—they’re poisonous and could cause blindness and even death. “Please let us go out and take care of the problem . . . right now.”

 We’re good and decent people; we’re the righteous ones, and, supposedly, we “have the ears to hear.” We’ve learned our religion well. We’re here every Sunday and we do our best to pass our values and our faith on to our children. To us there’s no room for the weeds; there’s no room for those whose sexual conduct is embarrassing or whose ethics are questionable; there’s no room for those who treat people unkindly or who have committed shameful sins. But no matter how much we plead, the master has a different idea and he doesn’t budge from his position. It’s a foolhardy and downright dangerous thing to do, but it’s what he is insisting we do. He tells us that this is not the time for such a radical response—he wants to wait until the harvest, and he claims that he’s the only one who will do the separating; not us. “But there are so many weeds in the world today, right here, right now—can’t we do anything; can’t we do something?” Despite all of our dedicated hard work, there won’t be a perfect yield—it will include both the good and the bad and this is the last thing we want.

 Jesus’ teaching can be a real stumbling block for us. You know, we’d like to think that there are just two kinds of people in the world—the real sinners and those whose sins are small, the good and the bad, the insiders and the outsiders, those who have the ears to hear and those who don’t, and those who make it to heaven and those who don’t.  But if we’re really honest, we have encountered both kinds in ourselves, in our neighbors, and in our world. Our fields are full of mixed plantings and they’ve grown together for so long, it’s impossible to find the purely good or the purely evil. And as much as it’s not the kind of world that God wants to see on earth, a world where it seems that the weeds are taking over and evil is on a rampage, it is the world that is.

 Jesus is telling us that if sinners are pulled-up and torn out now, we could easily destroy what is good. Sometimes it is mighty hard to tell the difference between a good plant and a bad one especially when it can act both ways. There will be a time for separation, judgment, and punishment, but that time is not now. Unlike God, we cannot know people’s hearts; where their lives might take them or their potential for good. We are sinners living among sinners and we cannot judge too harshly and condemn too quickly. All the evidence isn’t in and the game is far from over. How many of us have left Great American Ballpark in the 6th or 7th inning in frustration convinced that the Reds would lose only miss the walk-off home run, the game winner, in the bottom of the 9th?

In Jesus’ view, there’s still time . . . there’s always time. There’s the story that is told of a young gang member from a broken family—no role models, no education, no opportunities, no hope, no future. And one awful day, in a fit of uncontrolled rage, he fatally stabs his social worker, the one person who is trying to help him.  He was convicted of murder and he’s been in a high security prison for 20 years. That young gang member is now a middle-aged man, and he has repented, sought forgiveness from the social worker’s family, finished college, and was baptized. He is nothing like the violent young man he once was; he can no longer be counted among the weeds. Who would have predicted this outcome— we don’t have all the evidence or the right to judge.

There’s good news for us in this Gospel; really good news. No strike of lightning is sent earthward the moment we sin. God’s response unfolds slowly. Aren’t we glad when we look back on our mistakes that we have the time to change and the time to make amends? Aren’t we grateful that God is patient with us, that He gives us time to work things out and make things right? Most of here today, to be sure, were weeds, and some of us are still weeds. We try to hide our secrets because we’re ashamed of what we’ve done; we sometimes struggle to trust another’s integrity because we’ve compromised our own; and we still play games with the truth and separate our words from our actions. And there are days when we still slip back into our weed-like behavior. Yeah, if you look carefully, you can still find the weeds in each of us.

Until the end of time, good and evil will be very hard to tell apart—no manner of physical appearance, no ancestry or accent, no badge or identity card, will tell who is the wheat and who is the weed.  We are sinners living among sinners. But the time will come when the sorting of the weeds from the wheat will be absolute and final, harsh and decisive. And make no mistake about it—we will all be judged. But that judgment belongs to the master alone, not the servants. God is in charge and His judgment is quite unlike ours. His is lenient and merciful. His is not measured in retribution, but in mercy. And God is eager to forgive, long after we’ve given up on it. And God is willing to wait until the very last moment, for us to turn things around and make things right. “Not so fast; all the evidence isn’t in yet. And the game is not over.” And thank God for that.

Resources Used in the Development of this Homily

Bergant, Dianne with Richard Fragomeni. Preaching the New Lectionary, Year A. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2001.

 Buetow, Harold A. God Still Speaks: Listen! Cycle A, Staten Island: Alba House, 1995.  Center for Liturgy: http://www.liturgy.slu.edu

 Donovan, Richard Niell. Sermonwriter, Resources for Lectionary Preaching, http://www.preparetheword.com

 Pilch, John J. The Cultural World of Jesus: Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1996.

 Prepare the Word. Chicago: TrueQuest Communications, 2008. http://www.preparetheword.com .

 Siciliano, Jude, OP. “First Impressions: Preaching Reflections on Liturgical Year A.” http://www.preacherexchange.com .

 Taylor, Barbara Brown. The Seeds of Heaven. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

 

©David J. Shea

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