16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 19, 2020

When I was growing up in the late 50’s and 60’s, life seemed simpler and clearer than it is today.  …  As a Roman Catholic, growing up in an area with a predominantly Catholic population, I always wondered why the rest of the world didn’t have the good sense to believe in God in the same manner and context in which I believed and worshipped.  …  As an American, it seemed to me that there was no better place on earth in which to live.  We had everything we needed.  We professed the most noble of values.  And everybody else was somehow less fortunate than we were.  …  And if you grew up in a family with Polish ancestry – or Irish – or Italian – or German – you had it all!

Having grown up and having been given the opportunity to engage people from all sorts of different backgrounds and experiences and having traveled throughout our country and some parts of the world, I certainly appreciate that for all that I was blessed to experience as a young man fifty years ago, life is hardly as black and white as I believed in my early years.  And the world both within and beyond northeastern Pennsylvania is far richer and far more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

Now there’s nothing wrong with maintaining a sense of pride in our roots.  I wouldn’t trade my early years growing up in this area for anything.  But there is a danger when we see life in such clear cut, definitive ways.  …  For example, what happens to us when suddenly we realize that many people’s beliefs in God are different than our own?  They name themselves Christians as we do, but their worship and beliefs are not precisely the same as yours and mine.  Or what about those who believe in God but not as Father, Son and Holy Spirit?  Or worse yet, what’s our response to those who don’t believe at all?  …  My grandparents were immigrants who came to this country in the early 1900’s.  I’m proud that they did – and so were they.  How do we react today when we encounter new immigrants who are just as proud?  …  How do we respond to those who look and sound differently than ourselves?  …  What do we do when we encounter someone whose sexual identity or self-understanding doesn’t fit with how we see life?

The danger when we’re only willing to accept life in a way that reflects our own personal experiences is that anything or anyone outside of that experience and self-understanding becomes the “other” – or worse yet – the “enemy.”  And when we take such attitudes to an extreme, we wind up contributing to racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry, and all sorts of phobias.  And brothers and sisters, there’s a sure bet that we’ve all succumbed to such a perspective on life to one degree or another when we look at the turbulence in our own land these days.

Today’s gospel provides us with a very important and timely lesson on how we are called to co-exist one with another.  Jesus tells another parable that likely resonates with some of us who take to growing things in our yards and gardens during these summer months.  He tells a parable of wheat growing with weeds.  In the process, he addresses a concern that many of his followers – all the way down to you and to me – had with those who failed to embrace the gospel message and who, for many reasons, stood in stark contrast with believers in the early Church.

Jesus talks about weeds growing in the midst of wheat.  Specifically, he references a certain type of weed that plagued Palestinian farmers in his day and age.  It was very difficult to distinguish from grain in its earliest stages of growth.  By the time you could tell them apart, the roots of the grain and weeds would become so intertwined that to pull out the weeds usually meant that you’d also pull out the wheat well before harvest time.

The farmer’s response to the dilemma:  be patient in allowing the wheat and the weeds to grow together.  At the harvest, they can be separated, with the wheat obviously serving its much needed purpose – and the weeds having value as well, being burned as fuel to heat people’s houses.

Ultimately, Jesus reminds us in this noble parable that we ought not to be too hasty in judging the value of others simply based upon appearance or background.  On the surface, when all is said and done, we’re all pretty much alike and we all have some value and purpose in God’s plan.  What’s more, Jesus reminds us implicitly that we’d do well to leave the task of “judging” others to God, for in the end, we’re all at the mercy of God.

Make no mistake, today’s parable in no way suggests that we compromise the values of the gospel for which Jesus lived and died.  Nonetheless, Jesus advocates patience, respect and acceptance of one another, as we leave the judgment to God.

The lesson of the parable also assures us that in God’s time, good will always triumph over evil.  Justice and forgiveness will prevail in the face of selfishness and hatred.  And our persistence, through God’s grace, to live in peace with those with whom we are in conflict will be vindicated.  …  What a time-honored lesson to reflect upon today in a world that so desperately needs us all to live in peace with one another as brothers and sister.