Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 19, 2020 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Wisdom 12:13;16-19 | Psalm 86:5-6;9-10-15-16
Romans 8:25-27 | Matthew 13:24-30
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
You’ve probably heard the aphorism, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” which means that something good is eliminated when trying to get rid of something bad, or in other words, rejecting the favorable along with the unfavorable.
Lately, in the news, we’ve heard or saw the term, “cancel culture.” Anyone who’s been on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter within the last few months has probably seen at least one instance of someone, or something, being “canceled” in their trending section. Somehow, an exceedingly loud, yet very fluid, subset of the population has taken it upon themselves to call out every wrong committed by everyone, from politicians to musicians and comedians to restaurant chains, and call for that person to resign or be fired from their job or the products of their employer to be boycotted. In the cancel culture, all one need do is take one misstep, one ill-chosen word, and you’re history; you’re gone and you won’t come back. Apologies don’t count. Forgiveness and reconciliation are nowhere to be found.
The cancellers are militantly unforgiving. And unfortunately, many Christian clergy have joined the ranks of the cancellers, apparently forgetting that they worship a compassionate God and preach a Jesus who calls us in Matthew’s Gospel to forgive those who sin against us seventy times seven and to reconcile with one’s sisters and brothers before offering one’s gifts at the Altar.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus once again takes on the role of wisdom teacher as he directly attacks the “cancel culture.” When I read it to prepare for today’s homily, I was reminded of some lines in the Officer Krupke song in Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim,
“Deep down inside us there is good,
there is good,
there is good,
there is good,
there is untapped good,
like inside, the worst of us is good.”
Just like the farmer’s field in today’s Gospel, where the good grain grows along with the bad weeds, waiting to be sorted at the end of the growing season, there is good and bad in every group, and in every person.
As I have preached many times previously, Jesus recognizes in this parable that there are no perfect churches, no perfect clergy, no perfect worshipers, no perfect organizations, no perfect employers, no perfect employees, and no perfect customers. None of us is perfect. Each one of us has pluses and minuses. Each one of us does good works, and each one of us commits sins. Yet all of us call out the imperfections in others but ignore our own.
Today’s gospel is about inclusivity. It is about accepting the fact that there are desirable and undesirable traits in every person, and that we, as Christians, must accept people as is, where is, and deal with that reality as best we can, rather than kick the imperfect people out of the Church. It means that, once this pandemic is over and we reopen the church, we will accept all the people who come to church here with all their traits that we like, along with all their traits we don’t like. That includes,
All those who are sick and all those who are well,
All those who are rich and all those who are poor,
All those who are sane and all those who are insane,
All those who are intelligent and all those who are stupid,
All those who are educated and all those who uneducated, and,
All those who’ve made wise life choices and those who have made dumb choices.
Our compassionate God loves all of them. God loves even Chrissy Teigen! The universal love God shows towards humanity is the core doctrine of the Judeo-Christian tradition. As described in our first reading, our God is a mighty God, but because God is mighty, God can and does judge us with clemency and governs us with lenience. Ask yourselves how many of you do that with other people. The way God loves us is God’s expectation of us when we deal with others.
Every Sunday, we sing the Our Father, in which we pray that God forgives us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. You may recall the parable of the unforgiving servant, where a master forgives the debts of his servant, but the servant does not do the same for a fellow servant who owed him money. The result is the unforgiving servant was made to pay the previously forgiven debt in its entirety. The bottom line on that story is the same theme as those lines from the Our Father: If we want forgiveness from God, we have to be willing to forgive others.
Unfortunately, however, we live in a judgmental culture, where people punish those who sin against them and never consider forgiveness or reconciliation. Paying the price for what one does or says is exalted above all else. We excuse that by calling it “accountability” or “personal responsibility.” Those concepts have their place only in a context characterized by the compassion that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation.
In the “cancel culture,” the notion is if you do one bad thing, all of you is bad. To use the language of today’s Gospel, more often than not, I see many people wanting to pull up both the grain and the weeds rather than let them grow together.
Here is how that plays out in real life. Within the last week, the latest victim of the “cancel culture” was Goya Foods. Its Chief Executive Officer is Robert Unanue. His sin, in the minds of the cancel culture people, was his choice to support the re-election of Donald Trump. But supporting or opposing a political candidate is not a moral wrong. It is a legitimate expression of opinion within the expectations of a democratic society.
Here, the latest canceler was one Chrissy Teigen, an American model, actress, and television personality, who, along with other celebrities, called for everyone to boycott Goya products in retaliation for Señor Unanue’s choice of presidential candidate because she thought re-electing Trump would hurt Hispanics. Somehow, in Chrissy’s small mind, a boycott of Goya Food products would affect the upcoming election or change Señor Unanue’s opinions.
Chrissy, however, does not come from a Hispanic background. She was born in Utah to a Thai mother and a Norwegian father. She no training or experience in any of the academic disciplines relevant to the subjects on which she opines. She has only a high school education. So just who is she to decide what’s good for Hispanics? Her arrogance is appalling. Hispanics are very intelligent people! They can make up their own minds without her assistance. Whether or not the re-election of Trump is in the best interests of Hispanics is something Hispanics will decide for themselves in the upcoming election. They don’t need Chrissy to tell them. Yet according to Chrissy, Goya Foods should suffer economically in retaliation for the political preferences of its person in charge.
Supposedly, Chrissy’s boycott will benefit the Hispanic Community. Chrissy could not be more wrong. Goya Foods makes excellent food products. I know, because I’ve used them for years, particularly their frijoles. If you do the research, you will find out that Goya Foods is a family-owned business that started in the year nineteen thirty-six. This company now boasts twenty-six facilities throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Spain, and employs over four thousand people worldwide, most of them Hispanic. Chrissy, however, could care less about any of them.
Supposing large numbers of people do what Chrissy wants, that is, stop buying Goya products. What will happen? The company won’t sell as much food and won’t need so many employees, which means layoffs. Several thousand Hispanics could potentially be laid off. Are layoffs good for the Hispanic community, or any community? No!
What the Goya boycott illustrates is that the proponents of the “cancel culture” are oblivious to the collateral consequences of what they advocate. Jesus is a lot smarter than Chrissy. Being the wisdom teacher that he is, he foresaw collateral consequences when he told the farmer to wait until harvest before pulling up the weeds. In telling his disciples, “if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them,” Jesus recognized that pulling up the weeds before harvest could disrupt the growth of the wheat. Jesus wanted to give the entire garden the chance to grow together.
The collateral consequences of the Goya Foods boycott will likely lead to the opposite of what Chrissy intended. Already it has generated wide-spread publicity, and perhaps sympathy, for Goya Foods, which could increase, rather than decrease, its sales.
As a practical matter, Chrissy would better achieve her political objectives more effectively with standard political techniques like political advertising, social media, a phone bank, and television appearances. I think we can all agree that Jesus possesses infinitely more wisdom than any of us, including, but not limited to, Chrissy Teigen.
In the Lord’s field, which is our world, there is wheat and there are weeds. Some people are good and gathered to God. And then there are the weeds. One of the problems with distinguishing those who are wheat and those who are weeds is that we do not have perfect knowledge of the mind of God. We can guess what’s on God’s mind, but we can never be sure.
Sometimes appearances are deceiving. The humble, hardworking person whom everyone likes may be among the weeds because of something God knows but we do not. The same is true for the person who lives a notoriously evil life. Maybe God knows something deep down inside of that person that makes them wheat. We can observe and opine the outward aspects of a person’s life, that is, what they do and say, but we cannot see inside them. We cannot see those parts of them that only God sees.
What this says is that we as human persons are not qualified to judge other people because we cannot fully know other people in the same way and to the same degree that God does. Simply put, we as human persons lack God’s degree of skill and knowledge in determining who is wheat and who is weeds, who is truly good and who is truly bad.
A societal mindset that supports or encourages weeding out other people from our midst because they are considered “bad” glorifies conflict. In today’s Gospel, an enemy has sowed weeds among the wheat in a field. In saying this, Jesus understood that when we meet a new person, we are meeting that entirety of that person, both their good traits and their bad traits. It’s like marrying into a family. Your spouse has relatives that you like and considers good and those you don’t like and consider bad, both wheat and weeds.
The mission of Jesus for an inclusive church is well-documented in the Gospels. The Jesus of the Gospels never envisioned the Church as an exclusive organization for a chosen few, but as an inclusive community illustrated by this parable. Jesus did not envision the smaller and purer church advocated by the more militant proponents of both liberal and conservative views. No, the answer of Jesus is, “Let them grow together,” as Jesus says in this parable.
Today’s Gospel is not the only place in the Bible that illustrates the inclusive nature of the ministry of Jesus. All three synoptic Gospels have him dining with tax collectors and sinners as an anticipation of the universal nature of God’s salvation. Jesus wants a church that belongs to everyone, saints and sinners alike. Jesus wants both wheat and weeds in the church. We are not the ones to decide which is which. God, not people, will make that ultimate judgment.
Throughout its history, the Church has not only tolerated but has reached out to, people with varying levels of commitment and holiness. As noted in today’s first reading, “those who are just must be kind; and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.” That is exactly what we can expect from a God declared throughout the Hebrew Bible to be kind and merciful. Today’s psalm illustrates that. God is described as, “good and forgiving, abounding in kindness, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity.”
An inclusive church treats other people as God treats all people. A church that is kind and lenient as God is to all who encounter it can and should be an inspiration to our very divided world. God intended the church to lead by example like a shining city on a hill, a lamp on a lampstand, to be admired and followed. Churches that shame and excommunicate people, or ask them to leave, do not have the mind of Jesus. Such churches are more attuned to purely human goals of power, control, and ego preservation than they are to the demands of the Gospel.
The events over the past few months have demonstrated the urgency of the church’s mission to show what inclusion and compassion look like in a world where some people act and think like they are better than other people, and where many use their fears to justify treating other people badly without regard to their inherent dignity as persons.
In recent times, we have witnessed the stark divisions between people of color and the dominant white culture. Those divisions are both immediately apparent, and very deep when it comes to the appropriate role of the criminal justice system.
Those who support law enforcement and those who want to defund police departments have both demonstrated what it means to be part of the cancel culture. Each group wants to cancel the other by each demonizing the other. No way do they consider the possibility of wheat and weeds growing together in the same field and waiting until harvest time to trust God to do what God thinks is right. Each group is focused on one thing: getting their own way, vanquishing the other side as a conquering army would an enemy.
Both the left and the right wings of the political spectrum are equally culpable on preferring to win one hundred percent of their objectives rather than negotiate a consensus. Perhaps we need police for some things, like violent criminals, but not for others, like people with mental health and drug issues, where other professionals are more appropriate to assist the affected individuals.
This dualistic, win-lose orientation has both sides seeing more value in continuing an adversarial relationship than in cooperating to find the best win-win practical solutions for whatever problems need solving. We see this in the relationships not only between political parties but between employers and employees, businesses and customers, and landlords and tenants, to give just some of many examples.
The proper response of the Church to all of this is to proclaim a Gospel of inclusion and reconciliation in both word and deed. A church with opposing views within it is a strong church. A church with a hierarchy which sidelines, excludes, or censures dissent is a weak church, a church that invites schism, not unity. A strong church than doesn’t tamp down dissent within its ranks is a necessity to confront and oppose the Chrissy Teigens of this world who are bent on harsh judgment and quick anger to fuel the uprooting of weeds at the cost of damage to good plants.
Inclusion means the entire human community ought to be one in the Spirit, regardless of nation, race, culture, or political viewpoint. The entire world should be a United Nations where every country cooperates with every other country to improve wealth, health, and living conditions everywhere, not dog-eat-dog survival. Inclusion means recognizing not only the dignity of every person but the value of every person as well, even though we do not always see it in everyone’s outward presentation.
To make the church more inclusive means we must trust the Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness instead of relying just on ourselves. The Holy Spirit helps us articulate that which words cannot. The Holy Spirit sees inside us and knows our weaknesses. Because the Holy Spirit knows us so well, She is our advocate to facilitate the relationship between God and humanity and between human persons.
The Holy Spirit is the antidote to the “cancel culture”. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and respecting God. Those gifts focus our mind on the love God wants us to show other people rather than purely human ideas like rivalry between competing interests. Competition too often results from forces that would separate weeds from wheat at the expense of the wheat. The Holy Spirit, however, will show the Chrissy Tiegens of this world that their cancel-culture way of thinking does not reflect the mind of Jesus as to how humanity should conduct its affairs.
The mere presence of weeds in a wheat field means that the soil nutrients and moisture must compete with the wheat for survival. In human terms, the weeds among us are the bad people who sow conflict and division causing resources to be wasted to deal with the problems they create. So, it’s very tempting to pull them up and throw them out rather than patiently waiting for an end result.
I will close with another aphorism, this time an estachological one: “It all comes out in the wash,” or “everything will eventually be alright, given time.”
Even though weeds represent what is evil, Jesus teaches us that pulling up the weeds will not be necessary. Because the wheat represents what is good, the wheat will survive. Good always prevails in the face of evil. Between Jesus and the Devil, Jesus always wins. There is no need for a cancel culture to achieve the justice its proponents seek. In the end, good always cancels evil. Trust God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and it will happen. AMEN.