Prudence, Wheat, and Weeds

Prudence, Wheat, and Weeds

Patience is not necessarily tolerance. Tolerance is not necessarily love. I tolerate all sorts of things for different reasons. I tolerate snow because there’s nothing I can do about it (except maybe move to Arizona, but then I’d have a lot more tolerating to do). I tolerate traffic and long lines for the same reason. Because I’m powerless over those things. I tolerate uninformed opinions because I’ve learned that uninformed opinions aren’t uninformed by accident. We all have a tendency to start with conclusions and ignore evidence to the contrary. Besides that, who wants to argue constantly? I mean besides me. Tolerance is often necessary for the sake of peace and getting along. But tolerance is misguided when it is divorced from a much deeper and fuller virtue: Prudence.

Prudence is a virtue that gives us the ability to recognize what is to be pursued and what should be avoided. In the Catholic sense, prudence allows us to discern what is good and what is evil—we should pursue the good and be fiercely intolerant of evil. And there’s more to prudence than simply knowing what is good and what is evil. Prudence also advises the course we need to take in pursuit of good and avoidance of evil. We can’t do evil in pursuit of good, and we shouldn’t take actions which generate evil in pursuit of good. Even if the goal is good, we cannot cause suffering greater than the good to achieve the goal. It might be easier to see this in a concrete example.

It has been a lifelong dream of mine to own and operate an alpaca farm. And anyone who knows anything about alpaca husbandry understands that the greatest threat to a successful farm is alpaca thieves. My farm will come equipped with high voltage fences strong enough to kill any potential thief on the spot. Of course, the fence could also harm alpacas and innocent human beings, but it’s worth it because I have the good and noble goal of preventing alpaca pilfering.

It sounds goofy (I mean the defense system and not my lifelong dream), but it’s not so over-the-top. Consider actions like the War on Drugs. Think about how much suffering and violence came from the imprudent pursuit of a good and noble goal. We do it in our own lives too. Look at the absolute breakdown in civil discourse over issues of faith, morals, and politics. How many friendships have broken due to disagreement? How many families hold a grudging peace at best and, at worst, outright division over similar disagreements? But are we supposed to then simply say, “You have your opinion, I have mine. Let’s agree to disagree since there’s no way of knowing who’s right?” Well, no. There’s another way.

Jesus presents the other way in a parable. A farmer sowed wheat, but in the night his enemy came and sowed weeds. When both begin to grow the servants suggest pulling the weeds. But the farmer prudently tells them not to, because that would kill the wheat as well. Wait until the harvest and then have the harvesters pull the weeds to be burned and gather the wheat into the barn. Jesus goes on the explain the meaning, which He doesn’t always do. Whenever He explains the meaning I think the parable must be particularly important. The field is the world, this life. The wheat are the children of His Kingdom and the weeds are the children of the evil one—Satan. The harvesters are the angels, sent by Christ at the end of time to separate wheat from weed. What does this mean practically speaking? Separating people into two camps, good and evil, isn’t our job. Being children of the Kingdom is our job.

What does being children of the Kingdom mean in light of this Sunday’s readings? First, we have to understand that the weeds don’t represent evil people. There are no evil people. Thoughts, actions, attitudes, beliefs, biases, words—all of these can be evil. But a human person, made in the image of God, cannot. They can be under the influence of evil forces, but that makes them victims of the enemy, not the enemy themselves.

Second, make sure you are wheat. Be prudent. Before you decide whose actions are good and whose are evil, make sure you yourself know the difference and live it in your own life. I’ve been a weed at times, and I’ve been wheat at others. By grace, through prayer, scripture, and, above all, the Sacraments, I work with Christ to be wheat.

Third, we can’t make the mistake of thinking that patience and prudence (seen as tolerance) are a tacit acceptance of evil. If we love others as we should, we would be as intolerant of evil within them as we would cancer within them. We wouldn’t want a little cancer, but would want every trace of it eradicated. The same goes for evil. But it is unwise and imprudent to take an unmerciful approach and wield truth like a sledgehammer. This hinders love.

Finally, do we just sit around and disparage the weeds around us, waiting for the end of the age when we will finally be separated? No, that’s not loving, not prudent, and it’s very weed-like. We hope for conversion and show how to be children of the Kingdom by our joyful example. Above all, we pray. Nature cannot change weeds into wheat, but grace can. For nothing is impossible with God.

“Brothers and sisters:

The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;

for we do not know how to pray as we ought,

but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.

And the one who searches hearts

knows what is the intention of the Spirit,

because he intercedes for the holy ones

according to God’s will.”

                                    -Romans 8:26-27

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So You’ve Soiled Yourself. Now What?

So You’ve Soiled Yourself. Now What?

The Gospel reading this Sunday is the parable of the sower (note the name, I’ll come back to that). I’ve used this passage to open retreats with teens for many years. The message I add to the parable isn’t exactly mind blowing: listen to the explanation of the parable and consider which of the four types of soil represents you.

These are generally Confirmation retreats so I assume they have heard the Word the parable refers to—that God loves them, made them for life with Him, and that we reject His love by disobedience and sin, but He sent His Son Jesus to set us free from sin and give us hope of eternal life by his Death and Resurrection. Then we examine the four types of soil.

There’s path soil. The devil snatches the seed up before it can even grow. This represents a hardened heart, much like the hard-packed soil of a dirt road. Hearts harden for so many reasons but these reasons all tend to have something in common with the road: they’ve been walked on, run over, trampled. And it’s often done by people who don’t know they’re doing it, sometimes by “church” people. The scar tissue of life’s wounds builds up and the seed cannot penetrate. They become cynical about God’s goodness and even His existence.

There’s shallow rocky soil. Crops sprout up quickly but have no root so they wither. This person isn’t shallow, but their faith might be. The reason for the shallowness can be found in a confusion between faith and feelings. When persevering in faith feels good, faith seems strong. But when the positive feelings dry up (as they do) there is nothing of substance left to feed the growing faith. I see this in people who come home from a retreat, conference, mission, or bible camp on fire for Jesus, but the fire is partially the result of an emotional roller coaster. The first speedbump—an argument at home, a friend who questions or mocks, or a personal setback—derails the whole thing.

Then there’s thorny weedy soil. The first two were dark, so I have fun with this one. You can do this too. I tell them think of everything obligation they have. Raise your hand and keep it up if you go to school. Raise the other hand and keep it up if you have a job. If both hands are up raise a leg if you have commitments to family, friends, sports, arts, academic clubs, social media, hobbies, etc. The list goes on and on until every one of them has two arms up, two legs up, is bobbing their head and shimmying in their seat. Then I ask, how do you look doing that? In a hundred times doing this exercise there are two answers I always get. First, they say foolish. Second, like a puppet. The simple message is that the things in life that are supposed to be enjoyed shouldn’t make you look like a foolish puppet—they shouldn’t control you. They have heard the Word and desire to accept it and live it out, but honestly believe they just don’t have the time or energy. Faith goes on the back burner and promptly begins to die. In the very least it bears no fruit.

Finally, there’s good soil which has been tilled, cleared of rocks, and weeded. It’s not soil that was never trampled, was never shallow and never had thorns or weeds. It represents the one who cooperates with the sower to allow rocks to be removed and make room for genuine faith. With the sower they make sure that their trampled heart, though scarred, remains open by hope. And in genuine love they put weeds and thorns in their proper place. Rather than loving things and using people, they love God, love others, love themselves, and use things.

This is absolutely true. Each of us has the responsibility to cooperate with grace in perfecting our hearts to receive the Good News with joy so we can bear fruit.

But that’s not what this parable is about.

Jesus refers to this parable by name, and He doesn’t call it the Parable of the Four Types of Soil. He calls it the Parable of the Sower. It’s not about us, it’s about Jesus.

The seed is the word of God and Christ is the sower. I’m not a farmer, but I know that seed is valuable. After all, the farmer could have eaten it, or sold it. He certainly wouldn’t toss it anywhere, especially in places he knows it won’t grow. I don’t think Jesus is trying to tell us that He’s a careless farmer. The Parable of the Sower is about God’s desire that everyone be saved. His love for us is abundant and lavish—even reckless. It is a gift we cannot earn. We all have those times when faith is shallow, or forgotten, or even shut out by a hardened heart. Jesus is still there.

Good soil or not, God provides His Word and the grace to receive it with joy because He loves us. The only proper response is to ready our hearts, be hearers and doers of the word, and bear fruit.

Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us 
All Your purposes for Your glory.

Teach us, Lord, full obedience,
Holy reverence, true humility;
Test our thoughts and our attitudes
In the radiance of Your purity.
Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see
Your majestic love and authority.
Words of pow’r that can never fail—
Let their truth prevail over unbelief.

Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds;
Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us—
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
That will echo down through eternity.
And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises,
And by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us.
Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built
And the earth is filled with Your glory.