Sunday, August 12, 2012

Wheat Farmers and Weed Exterminators

A few weeks ago I went to an evening Mass at the Catholic Center in the Citadel Mall in Colorado Springs. The Catholic center is a small chapel and Catholic resource center run by a small group of Franciscans, affectionately referred to as “Mall Monks.” (Mall Monks for the win! You can check them out here.)

The gospel at this Mass was Matthew13:24-30 the parable of the wheat and the weeds. The monk who was preaching the homily said, with a twinkle in his eye, “Are you more of a wheat farmer or a weed exterminator?”

You know how every once in a while you hear a single sentence or a phrase that hits you like a lightning bolt out of a clear blue sky? This simple question was like that. In less than the time it took to realize what I had heard I experienced a complete refocusing of my outlook (which was a little bleak at that particular moment.) It might seem strange that I could experience the effect of an idea without really processing it, but I find it happens to me quite often. My mind leaps to a conclusion, and only later am I able to trace it backwards and find out where it came from and how it makes sense.

In every heart there is a hopelessly confused profusion of growing things. Some of these growing things are fruitful and beautiful. There are fruit trees, vegetables, flowers, wheat, shade trees, all manner of life. There are also weeds, brambles, nettles, toadstools, fungi and all types of poisonous, useless, or just plain nuisance plants. They exist in such close proximity to each other that their leaves, branches and even roots intertwine. It is beyond the skill of any human gardener to sort them out. According to the parable, it is beyond even the skill of angels!

I have long had a tendency to look at that wild tangle, or the surface level of tangle which is all I can really see, and see only the weeds. My inclination is to get out my hoe and pruning hooks and start hacking away at everything I can get my hands on, but even in regular gardening that isn’t how you do it, except in the most desperate cases. But that is not how God manages things.

You see, here is the thing about weeds. The devil didn’t invent weeds, he just sowed them in the wrong place. That’s what makes a weed a weed, not the fact of its existence but where and when it grows. No one considers ordinary grass a weed, until you see it growing up between your young corn stalks. The grapevine that is slowly strangling the life out of the purple Lilac by the corner of the barn is only a weed because it is wild and untrained. Properly nourished and in its rightful place it produces fruit and wine to cheer the hearts of gods and men. The Scotch thistle that is horrendously out of place among my beans is achingly beautiful waving in the wind in the pasture on a cloudy day. Even the toadstools and fungi are necessary and good and even beautiful in their proper place. The devil cannot create a single living thing, with all his cunning and power all he can do is take something that was already in existence, alive and growing by the grace of God, and encourage it to grow where it is not wanted.

God, rather than ripping that poor plant out of the ground, allows it to grow. He’ll even start pruning it, which causes no end of frustration to the plant in question, in an effort to make it fruitful. The bruised reed He will never crush. He encourages the growth of all that is beautiful, fruitful and life-giving, or even potentially so, until the very end.

Grow the wheat. Wheat is a plant, just as hardy and just as alive as any weed. The quack grass that sucks the nutrients out of the soil and starves the wheat doesn’t have to be the strongest thing alive. No matter how often you chop it down with the hoe, it will grow back because the root is still there and still alive. But wheat has roots as well. Let the wheat grow. Fertilize the wheat, bank it up with dirt, protect it from the neighbor’s marauding cows and water it. It will grow. It will become strong and it will do your work for you. It will suck the soil dry and leave nothing left over for the quack grass. Prune the fruit trees and build a beehive. Train the string beans to climb their strings and trim the wandering watermelon vine.

Don’t obsess over the weeds. Just bear much fruit. No doubt at harvesting time there will be any amount of dried stalks and old tangled vines and rubbish to toss into the fire, but that is not what God is interested in. He is interested in the sheaves, the bushels, the pecks, the jars and crates and sacks of good things that are our return to Him for all the good things He has given us.

For He came that we might have life, and have it to the full!

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