Homily: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

I’m not a farmer, and I’m hopeless at gardening. So, don’t place your trust in anything I might say about the agricultural life. I have no idea, for example, what the difference is between wheat and darnel.

Thankfully, I can consult Mr Google, who tells me that darnel is a rye-grass, which happens to look very similar to wheat-grass as it is growing. But the grain it produces is susceptible to infection, rendering it poisonous to humans, so it has generally treated as a weed. What looks like something we know to be good for us, is in fact a danger to us and to be avoided.

In an agricultural society such as in the time of Jesus, knowing the difference between wheat and darnel would be important. A family’s small plot of land was needed to produce the food for the household, especially the grain used to make bread. Producing the right grain mattered for the health of the family. But clearly, even for people expert in agriculture, time, patience and a skilled eye was needed to distinguish the wheat from the darnel, so that what would provide good grain for the family was not lost in a mad rush to weed out the bad grain.

Are not our lives a mixture of wheat and darnel? (Mine certainly is!) Do we not each have planted within that which is good for us and that which is poisonous to us? Often enough we are unable to distinguish the good and the poisonous, or we fail to notice the difference until it manifests itself in the fruits of our lives. And very often, we need the help of someone else’s keen eye to spot the signs of what is wheat-like about us and what is weed-like.

The cultivation of our lives by way of faith in Jesus Christ is the way in which we might learn to see what is wheat and what is weed about us. Learning to look into our lives, honestly and humbly, and then cultivating that which is good and true, is the Christian path towards holiness; it’s the way of entering into the Kingdom of God. But Jesus makes it clear that it is not simply recognition that matters in cultivating our lives well. A life that is too severely pruned – that rejects and pulls up everything about ourselves, in an attempt to re-fashion ourselves into something else – runs the risk of producing nothing at all.

A saint is not a perfect specimen of the human species, all re-shaped and cosmetically improved but dead to fruitfulness. A saint is a sinner found by God, whose imperfections remain evident but are transfigured to produce fruit. The wounds of our sins that Jesus received on the cross, he then took with him into glory; not rejecting them, not making them disappear, but transfiguring them into fruit-bearing grain.

To borrow St Paul’s words: The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. Or to put it in the imagery of Jesus: the Lord is the expert gardener of our lives, and if we allow him, he will find our darnel and deal with it at the appropriate time. We, for our part, might simply invite the Lord to do the gardening, that the pleas from our hearts might be according to the mind of God.