I got this book in mid-July and decided I would save it for our (then upcoming) adoption travels. What better way to spend 24 hours of flight time heading into a war-torn country for the love of a teenager than to read how this kind of radical love is exactly what Jesus calls us to do? But after that week's gospel reading at church I felt compelled to just give it a peek. I hadn't really gotten much out of our church's sermon and wanted something spiritually motivating to chew on.
Coincidence? Jen's primary reflection in the first few chapters includes the exact same Gospel reading that had intrigued me--but then led to a homily that failed to move me--that morning. Roughly 150 different Gospel readings rotate through the Catholic schedule and I happen to have heard that same one that day. Nudge nudge.
The reading? The parable of the weeds from Matthew 13: 24-30
The Parable of the WeedsJen's take (starting around page 62) ties this passage to the general idea of human judgement and our common tendency to resist helping others whom we judge to be making poor choices or not acting as we imagine we would act in a similar circumstance. She says (and I resist quoting the whole book, truly):
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
This is what God taught me through Judas at Jesus' table, eating the broken bread that was His body: We don't get to opt out of living on mission because we might not be appreciated. We're not allowed to neglect the oppressed because we have reservations about their discernment. We cannot deny love because it might be despised or misunderstood. We can't withhold social relief because we're not convinced it will be perfectly managed. We can't project our advantaged perspective onto struggling people and expect results available only to the privileged. Must we be wise? Absolutely. But doing nothing is a blatant sin of omission.
Turning a blind eye to the bottom on the grounds of "unworthiness" is the antithesis to Jesus' entire mission. How dare we? Most of us know nothing, nothing of the struggles of the poor. We erroneously think ourselves superior, and it is a wonder God would use us at all to minister to his beloved.
Jesus came to the foulest, filthiest place possible (earth), a place full of ungrateful, self-destructive people who would betray Him far more than they'd love Him (a whole planet of Judases). He broke His body for rich people who would curse Him the second their prosperity was endangered. He poured His blood out for those who would take His Word and use it as a bludgeoning tool. He became the offering for people who would slander His name with ferocity, yet His grace was theirs for the asking until they drew their last breaths, even if all they could offer Him was a lifetime of hatred and one moment of repentance.
When Jesus' followers asked what to do about the weeds in the harvest field, He said to treat them the same as the wheat... There was one Judas, but eleven disciples who were forever transformed by Jesus' broken body. The risk of encountering a few weeds is not sufficient reason to avoid the whole field of human suffering, because I assure you, identifying with the wheat but not the weeds is a gross overestimation of our own station. The correct character to identify with here is the weed shown mercy, not the Savior capable of discerning the human heart. Our holy Savior advised us well: humans must treat the wheat and weeds the same. We are only qualified to administer mercy, not judgement, because we will pull up many a beautiful stalk of wheat, imagining him a weed.
There are a 240 pages to this book and approximately 240 pages worth quoting. It's compelling, convicting, and powerful. The church as a physical location is a pit stop--a refueling point--but the real church is the day-to-day work of serving our communities and families and neighborhoods in a way that models love and sacrifice and all of those pesky details that are so tempting to imagine do not apply to our comfortable lives. We are children of the Heavenly King, yes, but on Earth we are children of the ultimate servant. We serve.
And, honestly, I'm not that big of a churchy person. I like our Catholic faith for its rich history and traditions and can't imagine us in any other faith, but I am often left somewhat flat by the actual church experience. We show up in our pretty clothes, do our rituals, hear an interpretation or lesson based sometimes closely and sometimes quite loosely on the day's collection of readings, and then we go home. And do what? Our usual lives. We often tend to treat religion as a very personal experience between an individual and her faith, with no convictions or obligations other than personal self-control and a "do no harm" attitude. It's not enough. It has always felt incomplete to me. This book lays out the rest of the story that has been a quiet drum beat in my heart: "do no harm and do good." It's proactive, not just self-controlling.
I am sorry to say that due to the realities of life and adoption travel and hosting, I took too long to get this posted and the 20% discounted deal on the book ends today (August 10; available here). However, I do have a copy of the print edition of the book and will be giving it away to one reader. And I'd love to host a discussion of the book in a few weeks.
Comment here or on the Facebook post and one person will be chosen at 5 PM Friday August 15th to win the book. As Jen would say, "Bless."