My homily from July 17, 2011
Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Gospel to “consider the lilies of the field” as a metaphor for the spiritual life. Given the gospel parable today about the weeds and the wheat, (and giving credit to Jonathan for coming up with this idea) I invite you today to “consider the artichoke…”
Jonathan grew up in a family in which artichokes were weeds—they are thistles, after all. A fresh artichoke never made an appearance at his dinner table in Monmouth, Illinois, and if there were canned artichokes available they were something to be avoided. I grew up believing artichokes were a delicacy—an opportunity not just for a tasty treat, but for the exciting grown-up feeling pyrotechnics of lighting the candles beneath the fancy little butter-melting dishes my mother got for their wedding.
So who decides what a weed is, and what is desirable? What was a thistle in the eyes of Jonathan’s parents was a delicacy in the eyes of my parents. Dandelion greens are trendy in salads—but not on lawns. Time and place seem to have something to say about how a weed is only a weed in the eyes of the beholder--Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
There was an interesting article in the Times sometime in the last week about how certain invasive species are being sort of repurposed into food; lionfish, which are eating the native species of fish in the waters of Florida are being hailed as a substitute for grouper, which is being overfished; the same is true for Asian carp in Lake Michigan—they’re being promoted as a tasty and eco-conscious substitute for Chilean sea bass.
In the parable, the weeds are very clearly bad—sown by the devil, and all that. But I think there can be a more generous reading when we put ourselves in the parable, that doesn’t deny that there is evil, but gives us a healthy skepticism about putting ourselves in the place of God.
“The slaves said to him, `Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he replied, `No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"
Last week we had the parable of the sower, and who we are in the parable was pretty well explained: we were the dirt. This week it’s a little less clear—are we the wheat? The weeds? The slaves? What is clear is who we are not: we are not the reapers. We are not the ones who are called to discern what is a weed and what is grain.
And the fact that the weeds are mixed in with the grain need not be proscriptive for us in discerning every time we meet someone, “Gee, are you a weed?” Good and evil, weeds and wheat, are mixed in the field, and that is true within each one of us. There is no person in this room who is pure weed, and there is no person in this room who is pure wheat. We’re mixed.
And might that cause us to be more forgiving of ourselves? I know what some of my own personal weeds are. I don’t like them. I’ve tried to uproot some of them—that tends not to be effective. I don’t mean to say that we should just tolerate our sins and our fault, but there comes a time when we have to have faith that even if I cannot overcome my sins and failings, God and the angels can. And when it is harvest time, they will separate out the bad from the good, OR, maybe it will become clear that what I’ve always thought of as weeds are really more like artichokes, and that although they have thorns and thistles, once you pull them off, inside there’s a really tasty heart.