Homily for 16th Sunday of Year 2005

From the Islamic tradition there comes this story:

A man called Nasrudin decided to start a flower garden. He prepared the soil and planted the seeds of many beautiful flowers. But when they came up, his garden was filled not just with his chosen flowers but also overrun by dandelions. He sought advice from gardeners near and far, and tried every known method to get rid of them, but to no avail. Finally he sought out the royal gardener at the sheik's palace. This wise old man had counseled many gardeners before and suggested a variety of remedies to expel the dandelions, but Nasrudin had tried them all. They sat together in silence for some time before the royal gardener looked at Nasrudin and said, “Well, then, I suggest you learn to love dandelions!”

A good definition of a weed that I heard says that a weed is simply a plant that is growing in the wrong place. It is we who decide what is a weed and what is not. Some weeds of course are destructive of what we want to create so we remove them. Others are poisonous and need to be got rid of if they are in a place where children play.

We can sometimes recognise the weeds in our own personality. We think we can see them very clearly in other people. When we do that we can easily write off because of their arrogance, dishonesty or selfishness. Yet, we can be grateful to our parents who let the weeds grow in us and did not try to root them all out by brute force and in so doing cripple our growth. The Lord will sort out the weeds from the wheat. We are not always so patient.

The parable is a response to the understandable desire to eliminate evil as soon as possible. It asks for patience, something a farmer depending on a good crop cannot afford. We realise, then, that this is one of a series of parables about the Kingdom. They are not prescribing doctrine. They are an invitation to seek wisdom. Only with wisdom which comes from the Spirit will we appreciate the mystery which doctrine describes and be able to make responsible decisions about right and wrong.

Interestingly, the very words of this parable were used referring to Martin Luther by Pope Leo X. He urged the Duke of Saxony to 'extirpate this tare and cockle from the fertile field of the Lord.' Quite the opposite meaning to that of the parable! However, it is very difficult to judge the effects of heresy compared with that of a weed in a garden. Wisdom is needed and often lacking. Before his conversion, Paul was trying to rid Judaism of the evil of the Jesus movement. And the Church has made several less than wise decisions at times.

And what of the weed of the terrorist, this cancer of evil as it is sometimes called. There was a headline in a newspaper alongside a photo of a young London bomber which said, “The face of Evil!” Ironically, his face could be the face of almost any teenager. How difficult it is to know the heart of a person. There have obviously been many calls for the immediate removal of such evil from the midst of the community. When you see great crowds gathered in silence in Trafalgar square in solidarity against evil at the same time you realise that there are probably thieves and brigands amongst the crowd as well as honest people. We are all a mixture of good and evil so intertwined that only God can see the difference.

We do need great wisdom when we see evil in our midst. We can fail to see that evil in ourselves which contributes to it. Let us pray for the terrorist. Let us be patient with ourselves in our weakness. Let us trust God.