Gospel reflection for July 19, 2020, the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

One of the greatest obstacles in ministry on any level is to believe that the work belongs to the minister or ministers alone. We can get so very busy evaluating programs, attending seminars to develop new programs and implementing those plans, that we can neglect the power and working of the Holy Spirit in the work that we do. While all of the above are necessary, helpful and smart, they cannot be an end in themselves. Without prayer and a deep sense of shared faith, the programming in parishes and schools can become show and not substance. Our churches are not just communities of service to the world; our schools are not just smaller boutique prep schools.

In a world of immediate feedback, instant analysis and endless tweeting, we easily run the risk of becoming performance driven. Data analytics, while helpful and perhaps interesting, do not meet the underlying truth of the work of evangelization. Transformation and growth, conversion and the life of faith, happen on God’s time, and not the short data cycles we prefer.

There are really no logarithms or data metrics that account for the work of grace in the world. Part of the struggle is that it is very difficult to fully understand the results of the work that we do.

Jesus uses agrarian imagery for his parables not only because his was an agrarian society, but because it provides a clearer understanding of how the life of faith works. Jesus reminds us that while at harvest time a farmer knows the difference between the crop and the weeds in the fields, it can take quite a while before the distinction between some plants is clear.

Having spent many years in education, I am well aware that even at high school graduation, it is not always easy to discern which graduates will be successful and which will not. Even when considering different criteria for success, at 18 years of age, they are still several years from reaching a stable maturity. While there are some that are obvious signs, there have been many surprises – good and bad – over the years.

That is precisely the point that Jesus is making in the parable. He knew that we all have the tendency to make judgments about other people. This is especially true of the people we know, or at least think we know. While our surface judgments bear some merit in the short term as we decide how we will relate to them or with what we will trust them, the longer view is outside of our ability and we must be wary of entering into it. In many ways we only really know the present. Even how someone will react or behave tomorrow is open to surprise.

The farmer in the parable, who doesn’t want the field hands to pull out the weeds in the field for fear of disrupting the crop, has the long view.

When we wonder why some people we thought were good do bad things, or why some we thought were bad do good things, we do so as though we have the long view. We make judgments about the moral life, or the faith life, or the religious leanings of people from the short view, not the long view.

The Holy Spirit – the wind that breathes through the fields – and the grace of God at work in the world provide the time and the nourishment necessary for each one of us to bear the fruit we are called to bear. None of us can know when, where, or how the Lord speaks to or calls anyone other than ourselves. Some of us are pillars of faith from our youth and others of us need a long time to get there. To be overly dismissive, judgmental or harsh to someone on the journey of faith is to run the risk of stunting their growth or even causing the little faith there to wither and die having been smothered by our lack of charity and mercy.

Instead, for our part, we should remain persistent in prayer that what might appear to us as a weed in the world might bear fruit in the Kingdom of God.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.