Matthew 13:24-30, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
When I was a teenager, our English teacher wore a t-shirt that amused me immensely. On it was written the caption, the older I get, the better I was! I remember him using the t-shirt to both educate us about tenses and also about life. As time passes, do we not often lapse into nostalgic recollection; once I was thinner, my skin firmer, my memory clearer, my heart purer. For some of us, that turning to the past is expressed with this pithy observation: once I had hair! Indeed, the older I get, the better I was!
While this nostalgic turning to the past is useful to some extent, it can be harmful in many other ways. How many of us are just stuck in our lives because we can’t forgive ourselves or others for the ways in which we still hurt? How often do our past failures stand in the way of us starting something new?
First, I believe our readings are inviting us to turn away from this nostalgic remembering to a hopeful imagining. Jesus says in our Gospel reading today, do not remove the weeds now for we might damage the wheat, let them both grow till the harvest. At harvest time, it will be easier to separate the weeds from the wheat. If we let the present be dictated by the past, it seems like the weeds and the wheat compete for the same space. We know this if we just look deeply into our own hearts; do we not see right there in our depths the struggle between good and evil. We know this also if we look at our world; do we not see the same conflict between good and evil. It is easy to be discouraged by our failures to resolve this conflict within and without. Jesus invites us to look not to when the weeds were sown by the enemy of human nature, but to look forward to the harvest by the Lord of Salvation. God is victorious in eternity, we need to learn to live in that victory every moment of our lives.
Second, as we turn in hopeful imagining, we learn to contemplate the face of God, who in our readings today is described as strength in mercy. In our first reading from the book of Wisdom, we read that God’s strength is not measured solely by omnipotence, but by leniency: your sovereignty over all makes you lenient to all. We often think of God’s power as expressed in judgment over our sins, but we in our first reading we read of how God’s strength is expressed in mercy towards us. There we read how God is not interested with our sins, but gives us grace for repentance. Perhaps this is why in our second reading today, Paul reminds us so movingly that the Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. I find these words of Paul to be so provocative, as if to say that the God of all power loves us in our weakness. For in our weakness, the Spirit becomes our strength. In our failure to articulate with language, the Spirit prays for us in sighs too deep for words. God who is strength in mercy, loves us who are weak, and in this we become strong.
Third, these reorientations teaches us, transforms us, by giving us patience with ourselves and our world. These conflicts in our hearts and in the world will continue. We must learn not to compete with the weeds in our hearts for space, but to learn to be transformed in time, trusting in God’s mercy.
I’d like to leave you with an image of these reorientations that is expressed beautifully in the architecture of our church. Note that the hands of the statue of St Ignatius (my double!) gesture towards the table of the Eucharist, our altar. His posture firmly reorients us to the centre of our liturgical avenue, marked with different tiles, beginning with the Place of Reconciliation and ending with the Cross. At this table of the Eucharist, the heart of our church, we recall over and over again that God loves us so dearly and that nothing can compromise that love; not even the weeds that are sown in the midst of the wheat.