Have you ever seen pure light? There is no such thing. Not even laser light, which is made with light waves being made to move in concert with each other. Even pristine white light is ordinarily incoherent and made up of a blend of colors oscillating to rhythms that are hardly synchronized.
Have you ever seen a perfect face? Sometimes perfection is associated with symmetry. Thankfully, the right half of your face is not a mirror image of the left. Try this simple experiment: take a picture of your face, crop half of the image, vertically down between your eyes through your nose and mouth. Then copy and paste that half-face and reverse it to make a whole-face. See how unlovely you can be. You may have two beautiful eyes but thankfully your left eye is not a carbon copy of your right.
Asymmetry and imperfection, incoherence and dissonance. I take these to be the weeds in the Gospel story today. Weeds are growing all over the wheat fields and the servants are just raring to uproot these unsightly and useless plants. In their righteous rage, they expect the Master’s go-ahead and what does the Master say?
Wait. He says, cool it. “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.’”
Three things the Master seems to be telling us in this story.
First, he is telling us to get real. Be honest. Things are tangled. Motives are mixed. God’s kingdom does not grow in a self-contained bubble. It grows together with the weeds. If things are so entangled, then goodness gets enthroned with the occasional crown of roses, at other times with a crown of thorns aplenty. If things are so entwined, being good and clean will not so readily immunize us from all the bad that abounds. Weeded is the world. Transformation is not tidy. Reform is messy.
Pope Francis would rather think of the Church as a field hospital. And so indeed it is. It is a place for wounded people, located in the thick of our tangled lives. It is a refuge for those who have been injured while striving to lead good and faithful lives. It is where we go to be nursed back to life. If we are wide-eyed honest about the life of faith and discipleship in the world, we cannot deny the weeds and the wounds we suffer from our entanglement.
Second, the Master is urging us to be patient. Be patient with the rawness and with all that is inchoate and unclear. Now is not harvest time. The journey to God is a slow journey. There are no shortcuts to goodness. It takes time for real things to grow to ripeness. Beware of those who spam salvation with offers that are just too easy or too fast to be true.
And so we do well not to yield to that tempting impulse to uproot what we think does not belong to this field of dreams. Let us bide our time with the weeds that are unsightly, the weaknesses out there and even those that are growing in our hearts. Take care not to obsess over these weeds. For the obsessive-compulsive, everything is equally important and thus nothing is important. Let patience turn to humility, which hushes the soul and opens one’s eyes to the battles worth fighting. Let us not give in to those impulses that would drive us to miss the wheat for the weeds.
Third, as in so many instances in the Gospel stories, the Master is telling us not to worry. What is the basis of our anxiety? What makes us think that the weeds will strangle the wheat and win the field? What makes us believe that the good can never be strong enough to withstand and outlast the bad? Even if we are old enough to be convinced of the powerful grip of the dark side, we are being told to be young enough to believe again, to trust in the strength of the love borne by those who care for us and by the One who brings us to being.
In this story of the weeds and the wheat, the Master’s tone is clear and unequivocal: there will be a time of reckoning, a season for burning. In the time it takes for them to flourish, evildoers conveniently forget that evil cannot hide itself or coexist with good forever.
Good and evil are not reverse images (or realities) of each other. The Lord is reminding us once more about the good news of this asymmetry. Amid all the imperfection and incoherence we see, the Lord is telling us to get real, to be patient, and not to worry.
[by Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ]
About Jett Villarin, SJ
Fr. Jett is a Filipino Jesuit priest and scientist, who is the university president of Ateneo de Manila University. He received the National Outstanding Young Scientist award in 2000, and the Outstanding Book Award for “Disturbing Climate” in 2002. He is also an active member of several local and international environment and climate committees, such as the United Nations’ Consultative Group of Experts for Developing Countries, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change, among others.