Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest
Ten years ago this summer, we bought our home from an aging couple who did not want to leave it. They had lived in it for decades, and it was here that they had raised their two daughters. They clearly put a lot of love and hard work into the home. Along the way, they added a small study to one end of the house. Later they expanded the kitchen to include a sitting area. They poured a lot of love and work into the yard too. They added a patio out back and nurtured many perennial flowers and other plants in the large flower beds they created. As they moved into their retirement years, taking care of the house and especially those big flower beds became too much for them. It was time to sell.
When we moved in, we were very enthused about our new home and especially the yard. We got to work on those flower beds and realized quickly that most of the shrubs and other plants had become overgrown. Beyond that, there was a lot of vegetation in those beds. It wasn’t always clear what should stay and what should go. Some plants were obviously keepers—like peony bushes and hostas. But others were not so obvious. I have no doubt that we pulled out a good bit of green stuff that was lovingly planted by the previous owners. I also know that we left some plants in that needed to go. That became very clear a few years into our ownership of the house when we decided that what we looked upon as a good thing—“ground cover”—had gotten way out of hand such that it had taken over a lot of the beds. That we were right became clear the spring after we pulled much of it out. Once the ivy was out, plants that had been starved by that ivy for years began to find the sun and flourish. Suddenly little, struggling peony bushes began to re-emerge. They bloomed for the first time this spring.
In the text from Matthew for today, we encounter a series of terms that are opposed to one another. Some are clearly good. The others are clearly bad. Some come to a good end; the others to a bad one. We have the Son of Man versus the Devil, the children of the Evil One versus the righteous, the weeds versus the good seeds.
In a world of seeming endless hostilities and divisions, it’s tempting for us to jump into this parable and imagine that, like God, we can tell the difference between the righteous and the evil doers or those who, in the end, will be saved and those who will be damned. But my experience in our yard serves as a powerful reminder that we human beings have real limits when it comes to discerning the seed from the weed. What looks to us today to be a weed may, when given a chance to flourish, turn out to be a precious flower.
None of this is to say that human beings should not be discerning when it comes to friend and foe. Of course, we are and we should be. It is, rather, to remember our place in God’s Kingdom with humility. When it comes to making final judgments about who is saved and who is not, that must remain God’s job. Our job, as Jesus teaches us again and again, is to love both friend and especially foe. Amen.
- Sue Trollinger