Weeds & Wheat

Homily for July 23, 2017 (16th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Psalm 86; Romans 8:26-37; Matthew 12:24-43

Courtney Carson was in trouble—again.  An admitted gangbanger who had been expelled from high school in Decatur, Illinois at age 17 for starting a brawl at a football game in 1999, he managed to get into an alternative school only to fall into more trouble with the law, first for gun possession and then for drag racing.  He served time in jail.

At this point, Courtney Carson could have just become another statistic, one of millions of young men who spend the rest of their lives cycling in and out of the criminal justice system.  But a number of people, including Rev. Jesse Jackson and then a college basketball coach, didn’t give up on Courtney.  With their help, he began to turn his life around.  Today, 18 years after he was expelled from school, he is a college graduate and associate pastor of his church.  He serves as a mentor at a local high school, leads a local detox program, and helps train young people for highway construction jobs.

At a time in his life when many people would have looked at him and only seen only a weed that needed to be plucked from the community and discarded, a few also saw some wheat growing.  They were willing to give them time to grow together.

When Jesus used the parable of the weeds and wheat growing together to illustrate the kingdom of God, he spoke from some experience.  Darnel, a poisonous weed, looks a lot like wheat when both are in their early stages of growth.  Pull up the weed and you could pull up the wheat without knowing it.  Similarly, there’s a danger when we judge people and situations prematurely.   Jumping to conclusions can be like jumping off a cliff:  it’s a mistake that leads to a lot of pain, not only for others but for us, too.

Through God’s grace and goodness we all have the potential of the mustard seed and a little measure of yeast:  to produce something good far beyond what we or others can imagine.  But we’re also human.  We’re also sinners.  We all have weeds that need to be pulled, slowly and patiently yet also with determination, and cast away.  As St. Paul points out in our second reading, God gives us the power to change:  “The Spirit,” Paul recalls, “comes to the aid of our weakness” and personally intercedes for us before God.

God gives us the power to change.  The author of the Book of Wisdom, writing only about 50 years before the time of Christ to a Greek-speaking Jewish community that was under persecution in Alexandria, Egypt, reminded them that their God was one who cares for all, whose strength is rooted in his justice, who is all-powerful and merciful.  Having experienced that power and mercy in our own lives, we are asked to remember that others can also receive it.  Yes, we must pull up the weeds when it’s time; but we need to spend at least as much time helping the wheat to grow.

After all, it’s the wheat that can become bread—bread that can be broken for others. +