The Sunday Project
Room to Grow
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time |
By Andrew Evans
For neither is there any god besides thee, whose care is for all men, to whom thou shouldst prove that thou hast not judged unjustly; For thy strength is the source of righteousness, and thy sovereignty over all causes thee to spare all. For thou dost show thy strength when men doubt the completeness of thy power, and dost rebuke any insolence among those who know it. Thou who art sovereign in strength dost judge with mildness, and with great forbearance thou dost govern us; for thou hast power to act whenever thou dost choose. Through such works thou has taught thy people that the righteous man must be kind, and thou hast filled thy sons with good hope, because thou givest repentance for sins.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Another parable he put before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, `Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?' He said to them, `An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, `Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he said, `No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"
When I was young, my priest once said that he preached to “afflict the comforted, and comfort the afflicted.” In today’s Parable of the Weeds, Jesus gives us a nice helping of both. We are left with an assurance that God will not “pull up” the weeds and wheat alike in retribution. And yet at the end of the parable, we are left with the image of weeds being burned in bundles as the wheat is gathered into the barn. For the good crop, there is mercy, and for the bad crop, there is only fire. This is a common theme in our faith: the interplay between God’s bountiful mercy and Their terrible justice.
It is easy, sometimes, to get caught in a loop, oscillating between the two. Mercy, justice. Justice, mercy. I know that I certainly do this all too often. One day I’ll get down on myself, wrapped up in thoughts of my own sins, all the ways in which I’ve failed God. I’ll give myself over to fear and anxiety. And then I’ll get some reminder of God’s mercy, of Their forgiveness and love for me. And I’ll be so full of joy and hope that eventually, I forget myself and mess up in some way. And when that happens, it’s back to fear and despair.
I think that this cycle can be especially vicious for us as queer Catholics. We are told from a young age that our desires are “intrinsically disordered,” that living a life which affirms our loves or our genders is sinful, and can lead only to ruin. Cultural and religious forces constantly remind us that we do not belong, that we are an aberration. We try to fit in, to construct an identity for ourselves that is acceptable, that can be seen as holy. And then, at some point, we realize that maybe the people around us are wrong. Perhaps we were made this way for a reason. Perhaps our identities are more than a sinful disorder. This can be an incredibly liberating experience, feeling the Spirit loose the bonds of guilt and fear that have held us down for so long. But if you’re like me, you come to realize that doubt is not so easily done away with. We spend so much time learning the “right way” to do things, and when the realization comes that we are meant for more as queer children of God, we are left with a tangled mess to sort out. Part of coming into your own as a queer person is trying to reconcile two selves - the self we create for the world around us, and the self we are inside. Rooting out the artificial parts of ourselves so that the authentic self can flourish is a difficult enough process on its own. But for queer Christians, we are also subject to a moral struggle, trying to figure out which parts of ourselves are of God and which are not. This is a process that can easily plunge us into guilt and doubt. I know that I will have to live with doubt for the rest of my life, as I try to reconcile my sexuality and my faith. Maybe I am wheat. Maybe I am a weed.
And yet this is where God’s mercy comes in. In the Parable of the Weeds, Jesus tells us how God chooses not to uproot the weeds, lest They take the wheat along with them. In his explanation to the disciples, Jesus tells us that the weeds and the wheat represent the wicked and the righteous, who will live together on Earth until the final judgement. And yet the beauty of parables is that they can be read in many different ways, can hold many different truths. Perhaps, in this instance, we are not the wheat or the weeds; instead, we are the field. There are weeds inside each of us - our sins, our guilt, our doubt of our own worth. And there is wheat inside each of us also - the gifts of our love, our activism, our queerness fully lived out the way God intended.
In the parable, God chooses not to tear up the weeds just yet. And this is the beauty of God’s mercy: time. God does not expect us to sort everything out in an instant; They recognize that we are growing, changing things. Sometimes we let the weeds grow out of control - falling prey to doubt, self-hatred, or our worst impulses. And sometimes we tear up the wheat by mistake, removing parts of ourselves to fit in, trying to excise everything which doesn’t fit into somebody else’s vision of what goodness and holiness are. But God is patient. They are there to help us tell the wheat from the weeds, and They are ready to help us when we make a mistake. As queer Catholics, we need to allow ourselves time to grow. There is beauty and fullness in the harvest of the Spirit. Our identities and our loves were made to thrive and to flourish. And in a world that tells us to pull up our weeds and wheat alike, God’s gift to us is the time and space we need to come into bloom.