Sinners among sinners

Pope Saint John Paul II reportedly met with his confessor every week to confess his sins and seek God’s mercy, pardon and forgiveness. One can only pause and ponder what sin such a sainted human being could have possibly committed; even more difficult is to imagine him sinning with such regularity and frequency. But then, sinners we are and sinners we shall always be; no one, save Jesus and his sainted mother, are immune from the temptations of sin.

Wheat and Weeds

Had you had the opportunity to share a pew with Karol Wojtla, long before he became universally recognizable, would you have taken him to be a saint or a sinner? Suppose he had sat there beside you in threadbare clothes and worn-out shoes, unshaven and unkempt; would you believe him to be a saint or a sinner?

Each Sunday, when you come into the Lord’s house, surrounded by family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers, do you find yourself among saints or sinners, good seed or bad weeds? How can you tell?

And what about yourself? Are you a saint or a sinner? Now, that is some question, isn’t it? We all would like to believe we are leaning toward the saintly side, but then again, we are all sinners. Sometimes it is hard to tell the good from the bad, the wheat from the weed. The problem is that the wheat and the weeds often look so much alike it is almost impossible to tell one from the other. So, which one do you tear from its roots and toss away?

Being a slave is seldom easy and often confusing; having to do what you are commanded to do even when you don’t understand or may not agree with the master. Good servants want to serve their master well and do what is right and just. They want to go immediately and tear the weeds from the field.

But the master tells them “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, ’First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.’

So it is with us. We try our best to inculcate our children with our values, our morals, and our faith. We come together every Sunday, some more often. We sit there in faith among sinners. We sit and we judge. In our minds and in our actions, we pull the weeds and gather the wheat as if we were the master.

We find no room for weeds—no room for those whose conduct is embarrassing or whose ethics are questionable; no room for those who treat others unkindly or those who have blatantly committed shameful and despicable sins.

We judge, and we judge, and we judge. And yet, never once do we judge ourselves.

But,” we cry, “there are so many weeds, sprouting up everywhere, right here, right now. Shouldn’t we be pulling them up before they completely purchase a stranglehold on the wheat?

But the master says, “No, for if you pull and tear out the sinners now, you may also destroy some of the saints.” We are totally incapable of telling the difference between saint and sinner. Simply put, when everyone is a sinner, how do you to decide who will be a saint?

Unlike our heavenly Father, we know not what is in another’s heart. Married for nearly fifty years I can readily admit to never fully knowing what is in my wife’s heart or what resides within the silent spaces of her soul. I think I know; I hope I know; but I will never truly know. How then should I adjudge another with whom I have shared far less time and nothing so intimate as I have with her?

Unlike our heavenly Father, we cannot know the heart of another. We have no way of knowing or ascertaining what paths they might take or what obstacles they may face. We may never know the good or the bad which they may do; we have no way of knowing their potential to do good or to do evil. We are sinners living among sinners. Judgment is for the One who is without sin; judgment is for God alone.

For we who sin—that is all of us—there is really good news: we can count on not being struck down by God whenever we sin.  Like the householder in the parable, God is infinitely patient, willing to give us all the time we require to change our ways, as much time as we need to make amends.

Let’s face it, most of us have been weeds at some point in our lives and some of us still are. Nobody is perfect. We play our silly games to hide secrets we are too ashamed to admit keeping. We struggle with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Some days we are wheat and some days we are more weed than we care to admit.

Perhaps we ought to ask ourselves who exactly are the weeds and who are the wheat? At the end of the long form of today’s Gospel, Jesus explains:

He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil.”

But how can we tell the difference? Perhaps, more importantly, have we the right to do so? Jesus said elsewhere, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:42). Which is to say, before we look for the weeds in another, we ought first to attend our own.

We are of two seeds: we are “children of the kingdom” by the grace of God, yet we are also “children of the evil one” by our sins: in our thoughts, by our words and by our deeds, by what we have done and what we have failed to do.

From birth to death, we are free to plant good seed or to plant weeds. You are free to allow weeds to proliferate in your soul. God will never force you to change, he will never strike you down or punish you for your sins. For God, there is always time, time for you to turn to him in humble supplication, to ask for his forgiveness.

Here is something to consider:

God steadily forgives our weeds and lets us grow without uprooting us. It is not that he wants to encourage wildflowers, and it would be better if they were not there, but he loves everything about us and wants us preserved even in the midst of the weeds. …

The crimes you commit don’t really agree with your real, God-given self. They are bad things, just like the weeds growing up in the garden. But they are only a portion of who you are. Your urge to impress others falsely, to get what you want no matter what, to be lazy, petulant, even to steal, or … (please fill in your kind of sin), these are never the full description of who you are.1

And there is something else to consider. We tend to place things in boxes according to size; whether good or bad, we like to measure them by how big or small they might be. We tell a little lie and dismiss it without much thought or care; but it is still a lie. We hear of a murder—now, that is huge, despicable, and heinous, and we call for justice, perhaps even revenge.

We see a difference and treat them differently, but a weed is still a weed, no matter how small or big it might be. A big weed will never be mistaken for good fruit; neither will a small one.

And sometimes, small weeds damage the soul far more than the big ones. Ironically, we seem to easily forget the big things, good or bad, but remember the small things. We quickly forget the big things, like who won or lost a Super Bowl or a World Cup or World Series from say, thirteen or seventeen or twenty years ago.

But we remember, and remember vividly, with all the healing and grace it brought, who was nice to us all those years ago on the playground at school. We remember who encouraged us when we felt insecure. Conversely, we also remember, and remember vividly, with all the scars it brought, who laughed at us on the playground, made fun of our clothes, or who called us stupid.2

It may seem as though small things, weeds/sins, don’t matter, but they do. They matter to God.

Amen.

Homily #132
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43

 


1 John Kavanaugh, SJ, Weeding, The Sunday Website of St. Louis University.
2 Ron Rohlheiser, Thinking Small, The Sunday Website of St. Louis University.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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