Saturday, January 31, 2015



The other morning I was reading the parable of the weeds planted among the weeds in Mt. 13. You may remember the story: an enemy had sown weeds in the master’s field, but the master advised the field hands to just let both grow together until harvest time rather than trying the risky procedure of pulling up the weeds while the wheat was still growing.

The parable offers lots of food for reflection. For instance, the weeds closely resemble the wheat itself in the early stages, so Jesus is cautioning his followers not to be too enthusiastic about rooting out the “sinners” in their community because in their enthusiasm they may be pulling up wheat that just happens at this stage to look like weeds. He advises us to leave God in charge of distinguishing the weeds from the wheat.


But what caught my eye that morning was a footnote in the New American Bible for Mt 13:27 saying that "weeds" refers to a troublesome plant that resembles wheat and (get this!) is poisonous.  I’d never heard this latter fact before, nor could I verify it in either of the two dictionaries of biblical Greek when I looked up zizania (Greek for "weeds") later. But nevertheless this little fact was the center of a powerful reflection that morning. It went like this:

There have always been weeds in my life and in my relationship with God, little things that shouldn’t be there, but that at their worst are, as the Greek dictionaries put it, “troublesome.” They’re like the weeds in a flower garden: they spoil the appearance of the place but don’t really do any real harm unless, of course, you let them get totally out of control. 

So I just don’t pay too much attention to my weeds - those harmless little habits and careless actions that aren’t really Christlike but that are just a normal part of being an imperfect human being. But what if those weeds are poisonous? Whoa! Suddenly their presence becomes a serious threat rather than just a nuisance.

Caesarius fighting weeds
Even if that footnote may not be totally accurate, we have another powerful witness to the danger posed by those weeds. Saint Caesarius of Arles (470-542) treated our spiritual weeds as a serious threat to our Christian life and he had no patience with people who made peace with their “daily little faults.” The Latin word he uses for "faults" is negligentias, which shows a good insight into the nature of the weeds: they're not usually conscious, momentous decisions, but rather they are careless, "negligent" occurrences.

He warned in his sermons that this kind of careless tolerance of our imperfections is dangerous business because it sets us up for getting caught by surprise later by some major sin. For him, then, those little faults are indeed dangerous - they’re poison.

Of course there is always the risk of becoming pathologically scrupulous, paralyzed by preoccupation with every tiny human foible of ours. To counter that, we need to remember that Jesus came to preach a God who came precisely to call sinners and who loves us despite all of those imperfections.

But the image of poisonous weeds is a healthy warning against a too-easy acceptance of the world’s values in my life or of letting my spoiled inner two-year old influence my behavior. Maybe there's a co-worker or a student whom I simply avoid with a cold shoulder for some supposed reason. (Jesus reminds me that I'm giving HIM the cold shoulder). Maybe I do my job a little sloppily at times, or let myself get too easily distracted during my prayer time. Nothing really serious, you understand. But Bishop Caesarius warns me that weeds are poisonous to my spiritual life and should be treated accordingly. 

One of the things that makes the saint saints, I guess, is their diligence in watching for the weeds in their lives. But each of us is called to holiness, to be a saint. So we are each faced with a choice: Which will it be, negligence or diligence? Weeds or wheat?

Saint Caesarius, pray for us!


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