I want to begin with the prayer in the last two verses of our Psalm: “Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my restless thoughts. Look well whether there be any wickedness in me and lead me in the way that is everlasting.” Amen.
The Psalmist’s desire to be open to God is impressive, as is his acknowledgement of his restless thoughts.
Like the Psalmist, my own thoughts are often restless, and in ways that sometimes catch me by surprise. It happens especially while I meditate.
Each day I sit on a cushion at my home altar for a few minutes. In theory, I am relaxing in God’s presence or else listening for God’s voice. In fact, I usually think about the things I need to be doing, or the television program I saw last night, or any number of trivial things.
I wish my mind were less restless during my meditations. But what really surprises me are the emotions that I sometimes experience while sitting there restlessly. Out of nowhere, I’ll experience a surge of anger or shame or resentment over some perceived slight from decades ago. Things that I had long forgotten come back to haunt me. Issues that I thought I had put behind me years ago turn out to still rankle.
Thankfully, it doesn’t happen every time I meditate. But it happens more often than I like. And what I glimpse in those meditations is the wickedness that remains in me, the wickedness that God can see despite my best efforts to hide it.
There is good in me, too. In all of us. In really beautiful verses from our Psalm that were unfortunately omitted from our schedule of readings, the Psalmist says to God, “You yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well” (139:12-13).
We are a complicated mix of good and bad. We are created in God’s image and likeness, AND there is a lot of wickedness inside us. As Paul says, “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” And yet we are still bound by “a spirit of slavery” that somehow keeps us from being the people that God created us to be. We
are marked by sin that will not go away.
That is one of the lessons of the parable in our Gospel reading.
The Son of Man, Christ himself, sows good seed. That is creation. That is the goodness in our world and in our lives. But the devil sows bad seed, with the result that everything we experience, and we ourselves, is a mix of wheat and weeds.
One option is get rid of all those weeds. And if we were really talking about wheat, that might be a good idea. I have never tried to grow wheat, but I assume that it does better when attentive farmers eliminate the weedy competition.
I confessed just last Sunday that my own approach is to let the weeds grow and hope for the best. My approach hasn’t turned out so well in our garden. But I took great pleasure this week in telling Carrie that it is what Jesus recommends. (I pause to note that that conversation was yet another example of the wickedness in me!)
But it is true. The master in our parable worries that “in gathering the weeds” his people “would uproot the wheat along with them.” Better, he decides, to let the wheat and the weeds grow up together.
Jesus is, of course, not talking about farming, despite what I said to Carrie. Jesus is talking about the Church. And Jesus is talking about our lives.
Start with the Church. Christians have long known that the Church is a mixed bag. It has always included great saints. Unfortunately, it has also always included a good number of sinners too, and sometimes sinners of high ecclesiastical rank and reputation.
From the outside, the presence of all those sinners in the Church looks bad. It can look bad to people inside the Church, too. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be part of a Church that had only saints?
But as soon as I say it, the problem is obvious. A Church that had only saints couldn’t include me. I need a little wiggle room. I need some space for the sinners.
So it is good news that a Church without sinners is not Christ’s plan. The wheat and the weeds have to grow up together.
And the Church fathers knew why. Saint Jerome noted in the fourth century that it can be mighty difficult to tell what is wheat and what is weed, particularly early on. It may be that some of the apparent saints are actually sinners. We’ve seen that often enough. The opposite is sometimes true, too. Some of the apparent sinners might turn out to be saints in disguise. So you don’t want me, you don’t want any human being, no matter how wise and good, to be making decisions about who is good enough and who isn’t. Any human being would get it wrong. We need to leave that decision to God.
But even if we could distinguish the saints from the sinners, Saint Augustine, another fourth-century saint, reminds us that people are not really like wheat and weeds. Augustine says, “what was grain in the field [will always be] grain and what were weeds [will always be] weeds. But in the Lord’s field, which is the Church, at times what was grain turns into weeds and at times what were weeds turn into grain.”
This is the premise for much of Jesus’ own ministry. When opponents complain that Jesus spends time with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus responds with some pretty harsh words to the people who thought they were so holy. Jesus adds that he came specifically to call sinners, and to turn sinners into saints.
That remains the task of the Church: to welcome sinners, to expose sinners to God’s grace, and to help sinners grow into saints. For that to happen, the weeds and the wheat have to grow up together in the field.
This is not just an abstraction. This is our lives. We, the people of Saint David’s, are not here because we are all perfect saints. We are here because we are all sinners who have been invited by God and by generous people in our lives to enter into that process of transformation, to grow from the sinners that we are into the saints that we are called to be.
The good news of this passage, the good news of this parable, is that we all belong to God. No matter who we are, no matter how badly we have botched it along the way, we are all welcome in God’s house, sinners and saints, weeds and wheat, in whatever combination we are. We are invited to come together, to grow together, and, eventually, with God’s help and in God’s time, to be gathered into God’s kingdom.
I return to the verses at the end of our Psalm. God does look well to see what wickedness is in us. But that is not all God sees. God also sees the people that God is helping us to become. And so we pray that God will “lead us in the way that is everlasting.” In Christ’s name. Amen.
 Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Volume 1A, Matthew 1-13, ed. Manlio Simonetti, 277. Jerome’s comment cited above appears on 278.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan