31 July 2007

Weeds Among Us

St. Ignatius of Loyola: Exodus 33.7-11, 34.5-9, 28 and Matthew 13.36-43
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

Listen here!

Every gardener, every farmer, every owner of a yard knows that when you till up a patch of ground, fertilize it, water it, sow it carefully with seed, there’s an excellent chance that along with the strong stems and healthy leaves of the desired plants, there will grow choking weeds, undesirable sprouts that steal water, food, and sunlight from the Good Plants you intend to enjoy. Weeds are as inevitable as bugs! No lover of a neat, manicured lawn, however, just leaves the weeds to take root and flourish and flower, seeding all over carefully cultivated ground. Weeds are pulled, poisoned, chopped, hoed out, and cut off. And then these thieves are piled high, allowed to dry, and burned. Jesus tells the disciples that there will be those in his garden who try to steal Life from those who wish to flourish in his Word. These thieves he calls, “The Children of the Evil One” and they are sown by the Devil. What do we do with the weeds among us?

Think back to the parable where Jesus introduces the idea of the weeds among the good plants. The planter’s servants ask their master if they should pull the weeds before the harvest. The master says, “No, let them grow and I will tell the harvesters to cut them, separate them out, and burn them.” Why does he leave the weeds? Why does he let them flourish, potentially damaging the good crop? The master reasons, “Pulling the weeds while the good plants are young might damage the good plants more than the weeds ever could.” So, he lets both the good and the evil mature in his fertile ground, knowing that the evil will be dealt with in the end.

Does this parable need any further explanation? No, I don’t think so. But it does provoke a question for us: for those of us who tend to think of ourselves as Good Plants, how do we deal with the obvious weeds among us? Notice the dangerous assumption in this question: that we know how to identify weeds! Now, there are extreme cases of Weeds Among Us—for example, those who would see us become unitarian-universalists; or, those who would turn us into new-age Buddhists or Mother Goddess worshippers; or those who would the whittle the church into a tiny remnant of apocalyptic survivors. We may also readily point out the self-proclaimed prophets of public dissent and those who mock the sacraments—especially Holy Orders—by play-acting at ordination rites. And there are those who willfully take on the identity of Weeds by throwing themselves in front of any live camera or open mike and denouncing the Church’s centuries old moral tradition in the name of "liberty." Beyond these extremes—few and far between they are!—Good Plants and Weeds can look a lot alike. So, in the end we must humbly submit to the infallible judgment of our Lord in plucking the weeds and leaving the righteous at the time of harvest.

We aren’t helpless against the noxious effects of the weeds right now, however. True, we must be patient in waiting for the weeds to be pulled; but, we can minimize their damage to the garden by carefully tending to that which makes the garden fertile in the first place: God’s gift of growing His love in us. No, this is not some lame deflection or crippled sentimentality put up to serve a faint heart too weak to fight the Weeds! There is nothing faint-hearted or weak or sentimental about God’s love being perfected in us. Jesus says that on the day of harvest, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.” No darkness, no shadow, no fleck of sin. Nothing contrary to the brilliance of the Father’s glory. Nothing stands against His end, His means, His perfection. For us then, we need only be living Christs for others in order to show the weeds their fate. While they suck life from the air and poison the ground, the Good Plants must be more deeply rooted, stand taller, produce more and better fruit, and be more beautiful in flower than any weed can.

Being right is not our witness. Being faithful to the end…that’s the testimony that will turn heads and change hearts.


  1. Anonymous10:46 AM

    yes just getting on with being holy ourselves is enough work for us...

  2. Anonymous9:52 PM

    Yes! Thanks for providing us with some well-tilled theology to sink our roots into.