Today’s post is from Chris Kellerman, SJ, a Jesuit deacon in Louisiana. Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.
I’m a birder. I can’t get enough of wild birds. I love to drive to a forest or lake early in the morning when it’s still dark to see what species might be there that day. Back in mid-May, I had a day of birding so remarkable I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. It was right in my Jesuit community’s backyard.
On May 17 during the height of spring migration, a maple tree in our backyard seemed absolutely magical. Throughout the day the tree was visited by over two dozen species of different colors, shapes, sizes, and voices: scarlet tanagers, black-throated blue and Cape May warblers, least flycatchers, and a dizzying array of others. I have never witnessed one tree attract so many species in one day, much less in my own backyard.
I was reminded of that tree when reading today’s gospel (Matthew 13: 24-43), in which Jesus gives us a similar image: a mustard seed that grows into a large plant in which “birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.” This, Jesus indicates, is what God’s reign is like.
It’s an image worth pondering. Birds are attracted to certain trees for particular reasons. Most likely, the maple tree in my backyard was drawing birds to it that day because the tree was providing them ample food and protection after an exhausting flight across Lake Ontario. Ideally, the Church should be a living embodiment of God’s reign on earth: a place where all of us are nourished, cared for, and protected.
But Jesus gives us another parable to remind us that it’s not so simple this side of the resurrection. He compares God’s reign to someone planting a wheat field in which an enemy sows weeds. Jesus tells us that these weeds are “all who cause others to sin and evildoers.” The wheat—the “children of the kingdom”—are stuck with the weeds until judgment day.
Confession time. I’m tempted right here to go into a tirade against precisely whom I think the “weeds” are in the Church today and how badly I wish Pope Francis would kick them out! But of course, Christ’s parable warns us that such actions of judgment are fundamentally dangerous for us humans. It’s God’s job, not ours, to sort the wheat from the weeds—no matter how good we think we’d be at it!
So what can we do instead? How can we help make our Church look more like Christ’s vision of that nourishing plant filled with birds, or of a field that isn’t so choked with weeds?
One way, I think, is by looking to see if any “weeds” have crept into our own hearts. We all know how certain patterns of thinking and acting can impede our ability to live out the fruitful love of Christ. What “weeds” need to be uprooted from our lives?
For example, I could ask myself:
- Am I so single-minded in my pursuit of LGBTQIA+ justice in the Church that I ignore other urgent issues—such as racial justice, immigration, and the alleviation of poverty?
- Has my righteous anger at the mistreatment of the LGBTQIA+ community by the Church been transformed into positive action rooted in Christ, or has it hardened into a cold, lifeless resentment?
- Do I have compassion and love for those who do not share a desire for change in the Church, or do I completely dismiss them as old-fashioned and backward?
Spending some time in prayer today to examine where we need Christ to do a little bit of weed-pulling in us could help us grow in Christian love.
I don’t really want to do that. It’s not nearly as fun as drawing up my excommunication list for the pope. But ultimately it is a far healthier and more fruitful use of my spiritual energy than spending it on resentment toward others. As U.S. Representative John Lewis, the social justice champion who passed away this weekend once said, “The life of Jesus teaches us to overcome evil with good. If we look at the life of Jesus and if we turn the pages of history, we will see that… paying the terrible price of hatred has never bought us one ounce of love.” And indeed, in today’s gospel Jesus indicates that I might be dismissing some people as “weeds” when they are, in fact, just wheat in need of a little more water, a little deeper experience of Christ’s goodness and love.
As we commit ourselves to uprooting any weeds that might be growing within our hearts, let us ask the Spirit to fill us with the energy and grace to be loving forces for Christ’s vision in the world. Who knows? Perhaps our own witness—small as it may be—to God’s life-giving reign will help the Church transform into a space in which more and more people feel nourished, cared for, and protected.
–Chris Kellerman, SJ, July 19, 2020