I remember a bumper sticker that I saw several years ago that read: “It’s hard to fly like an eagle when you’re surrounded by turkeys.” At the time I was working in a very large organization, and my department was badly fractured. There were two opposing groups, and the two groups had very different opinions about many things. We, of course, were certain that we were the “good guys” and the others were the “bad guys.”
As I look back on those times, I am amazed, and a little ashamed that I spent so much time moaning and complaining about the antics of the “bad guys.” One of my favourite (and least fruitful) activities was to gossip about the “bad guys” with one or more of the other “good guys.” All of these things destroyed our morale, and took away time that we could have spent doing productive work.
Now, if I could read your minds, I think some of you would be thinking: “Yeah, I worked at a place like that – there was constant bickering and fighting.” You might call it “office politics.” If you’re a student, you might be thinking: “My class at school is like that, everyone’s in their own little group and they never get along with each other.” But some of you – the wise ones – are probably thinking: “Why did you get sucked into playing the game? If you were hired to do a job – why didn’t you just do it? Why did you waste your time worrying about what everyone else was doing?”
Wouldn’t it be great if everyone respected each other? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was pulling in the same direction? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone worked for the common good? Well, yes it would, but Jesus told us today in the Gospel that life just isn’t that way. He told the story of the farmer who planted good seed in his field, and then someone came along and planted weeds. The farmer, of course, is Jesus. Jesus plants the good seed. You remember from the creation story in the Book of Genesis, God created people, “and they were good.” God made us good. But we know that there is evil in the world: evil in our workplaces, evil in our schools, evil in government, and so on. Now, in the parable, the farmer was asked whether his workers should pull up the weeds, but the farmer said: “No, let them grow up together, and I’ll separate the good from the bad at harvest time.”
I think there are a couple of messages here. The first is that we will always have to deal with evil people. I’m not talking about people who are different from us – people with different lifestyles, or different likes and dislikes, or different customs, or different religions. People who are different from us are not necessarily evil. Thank God for differences. But clearly, some people (to a greater or lesser degree) act with evil intentions – and we will always have them with us. As I said, we can moan and complain and gossip about these people, or we can get on with being good people – good like God made us. That doesn’t mean that we should ignore evil in the world. We sometimes have to confront sinful people and situations. But in doing this, we should not compromise our relationship with God.
And I think that’s the other message. By letting the grain grow up with the weeds, God was showing confidence in us. God believed that we could still grow in love and goodness despite the evil that is all around us.
It reminds me of a garden I had once. I rototilled a really big garden one year. I remember Laura warning me that we would have trouble weeding it. “Don’t worry” I said: “Each of the kids can take a couple of rows and we’ll be fine.” And we were fine, until we went on vacation. When we came back we could barely see the plants among the weeds. So we had a choice to make. Do we reclaim our garden from the weeds, or do we just let it go? Now I’d like to say that when I decided to just let it go, I was following the advice in the gospel today, but that wouldn’t be entirely honest. What I found as fall approached was that many of my plants were completely overtaken by the weeds, and we had a hard time finding some of them. But amazingly, some of them did really well. Mostly it was the potatoes that did well. I guess they were content growing underground while the other plants and weeds were busy competing for the sun.
So maybe that’s the lesson – be like a potato – don’t try to compete with evil – just try to be good.
But I think we sometimes worry about how we can be good in a world that contains so many bad things. Not all of us can change the world in major ways. We can’t all be Mother Teresa. But Jesus told us that we don’t have to do things that make the evening news, or the Western Catholic Reporter. He gave us this comforting advice in the parables about the mustard seed and the yeast. The mustard seed started small and grew into a plant that could eventually support birds’ nests. The small bit of yeast leavened the entire loaf of bread.
I was at a funeral a couple of months ago and I was listening to a son eulogize his mother who died in her late 50s. He talked about how his mom used to bake cookies so that he and his friends would have something to eat after school. His friends stopped over often – not just for the cookies – but for what the cookies symbolized. The cookies were symbols of the love and hospitality of this humble and wonderful woman. The cookies, the smile, the sympathetic ear were the mustard seeds – the pinch of yeast that were so small, but had such a profound effect.
Pope Benedict spoke recently in Australia, when he was welcomed to World Youth Day. And I think his words speak to the gospel today – to the need to grow in holiness in spite of the “weeds” – the evil that we find in our lives. His words are as relevant to adults as they are to our young people.
The Pope said: “Young people today face a bewildering variety of life-choices, so that they sometimes find it hard to know how best to channel their idealism and their energy. It is the Spirit who gives the wisdom to discern the right path and the courage to follow it…In this way, the Spirit enables men and women in every land and in every generation to become saints. Through the Spirit’s action, may the young people gathered here for World Youth Day have the courage to become saints! This is what the world needs more than anything else.”
So in a world where good and evil grow side-by-side, let us soar like eagles in spite of the turkeys – let us be mustard seeds – let us be that pinch of yeast – let us be potatoes – let us be saints.