Weeds

From a homily given exactly a year ago today
by Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ

Back when we were kids, our parents made us do the house garden on weekends. We had a smooth carpet of bermuda grass which had to be tended because unsightly weeds would crop up every now and then in our front yard. Where they came from was always a mystery. With makeshift chisel or screwdriver or even the old butter knife, we would pierce the soil to unearth these ligaw na damo. Invariably, some of the good grass came off with the bad. That wasn’t so mysterious at all since we knew and saw how those roots (good and bad) had become entwined over time.

In the Gospel today, our Lord likens the kingdom of heaven to a man of leniency and patience. When his field of dreams is attacked by weeds sown by his enemy, the Master cautions his workers against uprooting the work of his enemy. “If you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Let them grow together. In other words, the Master tells us to let go. He counsels us to be patient. He is not being indifferent or insensitive or amoral this way. He is merely not obsessing over a smooth carpet of bermuda. And he knows anyhow that the good has yet to ripen and of course that there will eventually be a season for the sorting (and reckoning) in the end.

If he is not obsessing over such, neither should we. Since weeds are found everywhere (yes even in the holy catholic Church that we love), we do well to check ourselves when we are disheartened by the unsightliness and unseemliness of all that we see, even in the stuff we most cherish. Since ligaw na damo crop up uninvited even in the garden of our souls, we do well not to obsess about ridding ourselves of these unlovely blades that ruin our image of how manicured landscapes ought to look.

The key verb here is “obsess.” By all means, we should make every effort to avoid evil and do good. But we should also be mindful of the obsessive way we can work the ground to a smooth green that is flawless but false. Such obsession can be a form of pride and delusional righteousness. That was the sin of the Pharisees, which disabled them from spotting the weeds right in their own front yard. Such was their tragic compulsion that they were prevented from seeing the fences they had built to quarantine them from the unchosen weeds that were growing wildly all about them.

The presence of evil is a mystery. Its diabolical power is found in the deceptive and methodical way it embeds and entangles itself in the roots of even the good. The mysterious ways we can turn down love and turn away from the truth are legion.

Yet as the parable makes clear, for all its devilry, evil may thrive but it does not have the power to uproot (or outroot) the good. Like truth, evil will out, along with the good. It is only a matter of time which, if your horizon is eternity, is just around the corner.

The presence of goodness is itself a mystery. Its gracious power is found in the quiet yet steadfast way it grows like a mustard seed in the “humus of our humanity.” The surprising ways we can replant love and be good again are as numerous as sand on the shore.

At their 34th global meeting (called a general congregation), in affirming their identity once more as “servants of Christ’s mission,” the Jesuits acknowledged that “our many faults we know and confess; our graces are more important because they come from Christ.”

We know all too well the tangle of weeds that have snarled up our lives; yet we remain unfazed. Far more important than our weaknesses are our graces. Our faults we confess are ours. But our graces embolden us for we know from whom all these graces come.

So that even if we should be dismayed by the weeds that we see around us, we will take heart in what Wisdom tells us in today’s first reading: “you taught your people … that those who are just must be kind; and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.”

The ground in which evil seems to thrive is the same good ground that has been known to grow hope and contrition and forgiveness.

Next time you’re tempted to work the earth and knife those weeds out big time, hold that obsessive hand. Fret not unduly (compulsively) over those unsightly blades of lost grass. You would be better off keeping that old butter knife for the butter.

About Jet Villarin, SJ

Fr. Jet is a Filipino Jesuit priest and scientist, who is the university president of Ateneo de Manila University. He received the National Outstanding Young Scientist award in 2000, and the Outstanding Book Award for “Disturbing Climate” in 2002. He is also an active member of several local and international environment and climate committees, such as the United Nations’ Consultative Group of Experts for Developing Countries, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change, among others.

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