I’ve always been an indifferent gardener; I like plants, but my efforts to cultivate them have yielded mixed results. The seeds I nurture on my kitchen window sill mysteriously wither after sprouting; a little container of shamrocks I’d once bought for St. Patrick’s Day survived until the Fourth of July, then wilted.
The only plants I’ve really been able to sustain are pothos, which thrives with only minimal care, and the tulips I inherited from the former owner of my house, which probably aren’t aware that a woman with a brown thumb now lives here.
But this spring, like many struggling to remain calm under COVID stay-at-home orders, I threw myself into tilling the soil. Between Zoom meetings and extended forays in the fridge, I carved out two plots in my yard, one for flowers, one for vegetables. My neighbors and I traded notes on compost, insect deterrents and the best prices at Lowe’s. Above my face mask, my brows furrowed as I inspected squash and melon seedlings, assessing which ones would produce something I could actually eat.
With the garden beds in place, I began a daily vigil of watering, waiting — and weeding, which quickly proved to be an art in itself.
Some intruders, such as a pesky creeper vine, were easy to spot and remove. Others were trickier: I could see a sprig that needed to be pulled, but yanking it too soon or too strenuously might unsettle a nearby plant that was still adjusting to the soil. And I couldn’t at all distinguish between the wild and the wanted in the lettuce section. Was that another leaf of clover, or the start of a future salad poking through the dirt?
Perhaps that’s why the Master Gardener cautions us not to cull in haste. In the parable of the wheat and the tares (Mt 13:24-30), Jesus tells of a man whose enemy secretly sowed weeds among his crop. As the damage becomes evident, the landowner decides not to risk uprooting the wheat by pulling out the weeds. Instead, he opts to “let them grow together until the harvest,” at which time he will order his workers to “first collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning,” and then “gather the wheat into (his) barn” (Mt 13:30).
In his recent homily for Archbishop Nelson Perez’s investiture with the pallium, apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre pointed to the parable as a lesson in discernment. He noted that the Greek word used in the Gospel for “weeds,” zizania, actually refers to darnel, which resembles wheat until it is almost fully grown.
For that reason, said Archbishop Pierre, “Jesus cautions his disciples to be patient, because things are not always initially clear.”
Just as the sower waited until the harvest to sort his crop, said the nuncio, “the church embraces people who have the possibility of responding to the divine mission by being transformed from sinner to saint, from weed to wheat.”
At this moment in our history, we are in a time of intense weeding, rooting out the evils that have for too long invaded and overrun our communities: racism, inequality, injustice.
Such toxic strands must indeed be removed, and let us be thorough and inexorable — but let us also be gentle, taking care not to destroy the good crop sown by the Master, and giving ourselves and others the chance, through his grace, to transform the weeds of our lives into a harvest for his glory.
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