Just yesterday I was standing outside with a couple of individuals, when one of them looked down, ground quickly grabbed what was apparently a weed. What was so interesting to me, was how effortlessly they noticed that something did not belong. To me, and to the other person standing there, nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. To one who had the discerning eye of one who knows a lot about plants, the weed was obvious.
When I was a little kid, I was at times sent out to weed the garden. I cannot ever say that I enjoyed it, largely because I did not see the point. I simply could not understand why weeds were problem in the first place. Some of this comes from the fact that I am not observant when it comes to details, and over my life in terms of raising houseplants I have killed more than I care to admit. I simply forget to water them.
But because Jesus is a master storyteller, I have no difficulty in understanding the point he’s trying to make in this morning’s gospel. Intellectually I understand the problem with weeds. Spiritually, I understand the need for us to be discerning to the events and circumstances of our lives and the lives of others.
The person I mentioned who has such a discerning eye when it comes to notice and weeds, arrived at this point in life through lots of practice, experience, and hard work. The desire to remove the weeds comes from the tremendous outcome of beautiful gardens and spaces. The knowledge to understand which weeds must be removed is due to the great effort put forth to learn. Put simply, the discernment about weeds became possible because of the effort put in to learn about what it takes to be a good gardener.
When we think of evil, there certainly are types of evil that take very little discernment to recognize. The shooting down of a passenger plane, for example, is one such event. Witnessing the types of atrocities we’ve seen in Iraq or Syria, as other examples do not require much discernment to see the evil that lies behind these actions.
But there are certain events that take more effort. In our day-to-day living, it can be much harder to sort out actions that are evil, because human existence is a complex reality. It cannot be reduced simply to consequences of actions, because the same action can have good consequences for one person and bad consequences for another. It can also be the case that we are forced into choices and actions for which there is no good outcome. It can be the case that we have great difficulty in sorting out the right thing to do, precisely because of the complexity of moral decision-making.
I think this is what Jesus means when he points out the difficulty of pulling up the weeds. Pulling up the weeds without consideration of what might happen to the plants could result in damage to both. And while most news channels, newspapers, or other sources of information and media would like to present a view of life where things are black or white, we all know the lived reality is much different. All too often situations and circumstances of life are not black or white, but are often a difficult shade of gray.
A simple look at political issues that we face today indicate that such is the case. The numerous decisions that parents make concerning their children on a daily basis and otherwise indicate complexities of what to do in any given moment. I’m sure many of you who are mothers and fathers at those instances where you and your spouse have disagreed about an appropriate course of action. Making things more complicated, in such circumstances it could very well be the case that both of you are correct, at least to a point. And consider the reality that both of you love your children, and each other, and the circumstance becomes even more complex.
And so what are we to do? As with so many things, the solution is placing ourselves in the presence of Jesus. One is to consider prayerfully what we hear in the Bible. We need to look at the actions of Jesus, and ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to see the proper course of action. The second reading reminds us that it is often the Holy Spirit that helps us in our prayer to begin with, teaching us to pray even when we do not know how.
Just as the person mentioned at the start of this homily needed to develop a discerning eye to see weeds and legitimate plants, our spiritual life is one that takes development as well. Jesus clearly wants us to grow in faith. Jesus wants to provide us tools to do so. In order to grow in this way, it seems more than necessary for us to examine the many ways in which we can come to know Jesus better.
We need to study and reflect. We need to find silence so that we may discover the voice of God which dwells in our hearts. We need to become informed, on a whole variety of issues, so that we might have a clearer idea of which course of action reflects the will of God for us personally. We need to search out those tools which help us to come to know Jesus and his requests about how we are to live our lives. We need to become familiar with the Bible, consider spiritual reading, and to take the time to understand the teachings of the Church.
What should provide us confidence are the words of the second reading.
The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
Throughout the course of our lives we face numerous circumstances which require of us the ability to see as God sees with the events of our lives and our world. Praise be to Jesus; God loves us so much, he’s willing to make clear the way of life for us.