Our life’s ‘weeds’ and God’s leniency
By Shawn Reeves
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time/July 19
Wisdom 12:13,16-19; Psalm 86:5-6,9-10,15-16; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43
My children span the ages of 19 to newborn. I’ve had a lot of time to think about what it means to be a good father. Lenience toward your children’s mistakes is certainly key, a feature I have not mastered. We all are flawed, and we all make mistakes. Patience from others affords us the hope that those mistakes do not define us (or our worth).
In both English and the original biblical language, leniency is a kind of persistent endurance, a patient restraint against an impulse to react, a forbearance before the misdoings of others. In other words, it is an expression of mercy. Indeed, the biblical use of this term is most often an act of “drawing back from” and sparing another (so as not to destroy them). “Your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all” our first reading declares of God, adding “with much lenience you govern us.”
In our Gospel reading’s parable, Jesus illustrates the merciful nature of the kingdom of heaven through the imagery of a parable of a master and his wheat field. However, when weeds are discovered, the servants approach their master, asking, “Did you not sow good seed in your field?” The nature of the question is almost that of accusation (a tone more apparent in the Greek). The following question, “Where did the weeds come from?” implies some negligence or duplicitousness of the master.
The darnel weed was not just an agricultural nuisance. It was also poisonous, causing sickness and dizziness if eaten, only distinguishable from true wheat in later stages — thus the confusion and mild suspicion of the servants.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR REPENTANCE
Like them, we often look upon the field of our life with all its weeds and pronounce to God, “If you truly are the master of this field, how could you permit these misfortunes?” Like the master facing the consternation of his servants, God remains lenient before our challenges, offering patience and consolation. Assuring them of his steadfastness and revealing the true origin of the weeds, the master echoes God’s ways, bringing to life the words: “For you show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved.”
In the longer Gospel reading, Jesus explains that the weeds in the parable are not unsavory events or obstacles but persons, “children of the evil one.” Because the weeds could not be pulled up without uprooting the wheat, they were divided by hand at harvest. Jesus explains that these weeds sown by “the enemy” will be collected only at “the end of the age.” Here, also, there is merciful lenience. “You gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins,” our first reading announces.
The leniency of God is that He postpones a ruling on their life until the final moment. In His “care of all,” God waits to execute His judgment until all opportunities for repentance have been exhausted. Until then, he permits them “good ground” and allowances for repentance. For, He “judge[s] with clemency.”
MERCY AND LENIENCE
Even in prayer God is lenient to us. “We do not know how to pray as we ought,” St. Paul insists. But, “the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness.” In his clemency, God assists us even in our dialogue with Him. No matter how we fumble our words or gestures toward Him, “the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings,” an expression that portrays the divine effort the Holy Spirit invests in our spiritual welfare. In a demonstration of his power and mercy, God “searches [the] hearts” of those in prayer and sends his Holy Spirit to intercede, buttressing our intentions with “the intention of the Spirit.”
The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of mercy and lenience. We are often bad at these, because mercy and lenience require great strength. “Give your strength to your servant,” the Psalmist cries.
Perhaps, it should become our cry, too. For the twin mandate of the kingdom of heaven is this: “those who are just must be kind.”
SHAWN REEVES has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family attend St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Thomasboro.