Pastoral Message – July 23, 2023
But, though you are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us;
One of the characteristics of a great leader is humility. With humility comes the ability to be patient, compassionate and merciful. Proud, powerful people are rarely able to accept others as they are. Instead, they judge harshly, criticize often, and shame those who they are supposed to lead.
Although God is “the master of might,” He accepts us as we are, where we are. So often in the Gospels, Jesus encounters an individual who has sinned, whose life is less than perfect. In each case, the individual approaches Jesus with shame. In each case, Jesus meets the person in their despair. In His humility, he shows great compassion and mercy. He lifts them from their despair because He encourages rather than shames them.
In today’s Gospel, we once again hear this essential message: With God, there is always a chance for redemption. Whether we live an exemplary life for 80 years, or whether we repent of our many sins on our deathbed, God forgives us and invites us to join Him in His eternal kingdom. Of course, the problem with “living life to the fullest” in a sin-filled frenzy is that we never know when we will take our last breath. We may not have the opportunity to repent on our deathbed. Therefore, the far better strategy is to live in a manner consistent with God’s teachings. Simply put, that means to “love God and love one another.”
The readings this week try to give us a good sense of God’s patience and his mercy. In the parable, the landowner allows the weeds to live alongside of the wheat right up until the harvest. Unlike humans, weeds cannot transform themselves in to stalks of wheat. They cannot repent and turn from evil to good as we can. However, many folks prefer to be “weeds.” As a result, there are weeds as well as wheat both in the world at large and even in the Church.
We need to accept the fact that the Church is a diverse body and remember that it is not up to us to separate the wheat from the weeds in the present life of the Church. God, in His mercy will determine when and how to distinguish the weeds from the wheat and what the fate of the weeds will be. The weeds are presently indistinguishable from the wheat, but at the end, God will separate them. The Church must meanwhile be patient and we must both respect and aspire to the forbearance of God.
The Jewish leaders criticize Jesus for inviting outcasts to eat with him as an anticipation of God’s salvation. He answers by saying that it is for God to make the separation and that God will do so only at the end. That is when it will be clear who are the wheat and who are the weeds. There will no doubt be some surprises in store.
When we first moved to Oregon, I briefly cared about my lawn. We were in a neighborhood where everybody had great looking lawns. I never really wanted to be one of those people, but I succumbed to peer pressure. I decided that I would not have the best lawn, but I didn’t want the worst lawn either. I simply wanted my lawn to look green, evenly cut, and trimmed properly. It took work (which I wasn’t willing to put in), knowledge (which I lacked), and, most of all patience (which is not my best attribute). Inevitably, the weeds, crabgrass, clover, and all sorts of other enemies were biding their time before they would take over. After a season of being annoyingly meticulous, I gave up and handed the job over to a landscaper. Fortunately for us, God is ever patient. He will never give up on us whether we are wheat or weeds. He knows that He planted good seed in each of us and that, with His help, we can overcome the evil influence of the enemy.
Before the Last Day, believers and unbelievers might look similar, just like weeds and wheat in their early stages. So instead of trying to do God’s job of making the final judgment, Jesus says, “Let both grow together until the harvest.” We are not called to go around uprooting those who are planted around us. We don’t know what’s going on in each person’s heart. Some people who look like atheists are slowly becoming strong Christians. And some lifelong Christians are in the process of deconstructing. We just don’t know.
That’s why we are to withhold judgment and let God decide each one’s eternal fate. For our part, we must have the patience to grow up together, to work together, and build communities together until the day of the harvest. This also means we are to be ready to show compassion to the struggling rather than to judge and try to uproot them. We may be wrong in our assessment of our fellow Christians.
There will be a final day when all things will be revealed to us. On that day, there will be no question who are wheat and who are weeds. But, until then, let’s learn to give each other grace as we grow together.