A preacher was walking down the street when he saw a former classmate, shabbily dressed, unshaven and clearly down on his luck. “What in the world happened to you?” asked the preacher, The classmate shook his head and told his sad tale of bad investments and heavy losses at gambling casinos. “Go home,” advised the preacher, “Open your bible at random, put your finger on the page and you'll find God's answer to your problem.”
Some weeks later the preacher again met his classmate who was now wearing an expensive suit, and driving a brand new car. “I'm glad things turned out well for you,” the preacher said. “Well, I owe it all to you,” the man replied. “I opened my bible like you said, put my finger on the page and right there at the top of the page was my answer: Chapter 11!” A nice, quick fix!
In today's Gospel, we hear about thistles, those nasty weeds growing up in the midst of wheat grains. We also hear the farmhands' idea for a quick fix. Pull out the thistles and get rid of them! Yet this Gospel warns: don't be too quick with that remedy!
In Jesus' day, a huge problem farmers faced each year was the thistle, the weed people called “false wheat.” It looked like real wheat when it sprouted and began to grow. Experienced farmers often couldn't tell the thistle, the fake wheat, from the genuine wheat until both were fully mature. So they gave each plant in the field a chance to grow and show what it really was. That's precisely what Jesus asks us to do with ourselves and with others. Wait, and allow time for us and for others to reach maturity. After all, we are works in progress, are we not, until our final breath!
We know that evil is a fact of life. Often our first instinct upon seeing evil in word or deed is to pronounce a hasty judgment. Weed it out. Get rid of it. We may be right; we may be wrong. Yet sometimes what we call a weed is no weed at all. Sometimes it is just a stunted, undernourished plant that might still produce a good harvest – if someone's around to give it time and assistance. But if we turn our backs too quickly, that very stunted, undernourished part of us and others with all its wonderful possibilities will be lost forever. That would be a terrible shame. What if Jesus had given up on Peter for denying him three times, or his apostles for running out on him in his time of need? What if he had given up on Paul for jailing Christians believers? What if he had given up on you and me the first time we did something wickedly evil?
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and has high hopes for each of us. God loves us with great compassion and divine patience – even as damaged, stunted and spiritually undernourished as we sometimes can be. In today's Gospel, God asks that we do likewise: that we look at ourselves and others with similar compassion and patience. If we do, growth will come, the growth of the inner spirit we all long for. It wont come quickly like a Chapter 11, but it will come. The harvest will be rich. It will be full. It will be life-giving. Nothing lost, nothing wasted! God's own harvest – you and I! Imagine that! Or, better still, make it so!