On Friday, the polling firm Gallup released some of its latest findings, documenting that Americans’ belief in God has dropped to the lowest in the firm’s history.  From vast majorities in the early 2000s of over 90% to now just 74%.   One reason for this decline that people cite is “If there’s a good God, why does he allow so much evil to exist in the world?” People seem upset (justifiably, by the way) that things are not perfect.   They are frustrated like the servants in the Gospel today –why are there weeds among the wheat?  Why does it seem the harvest isn’t going to turn out right?  Why would the work of the good master fail?

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the 16th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME -JULY 23, 2023.  I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

There’s something to that argument.  I think most of us are intimidated by these weeds.  We wonder why they are there.  We start to doubt the “sower” as we focus solely on the bad things in the world, in our worlds that have the potential to discourage, distract and upset us…  We focus on the weeds – their existence – their presence among us and forget the beautiful garden – the flowers blooming alongside the weeds.

The question of “the problem of evil” – if God is so good, so loving, why does he allow bad things to happen is an interesting debate that theologians and philosophers love to engage, argue, and challenge each other with.  But when we’re not talking about evil things on a theoretical, hypothetical level, but experiencing them…  When we see them on a rampant level, when we can add our own personal items to that already lengthy list, it loses some of those interesting qualities.  It has the potential to undermine our faith, causing us to join those numbers that Gallup found.

That is why even though this parable isn’t as popular or memorable as some of Jesus’ others, like the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son – in some ways, this parable is one of the most important ones for us to reflect on.  Because Jesus encapsulates all of our “Why do bad things happen” in the question the servants address to the owner of the fields when they ask – Why are there weeds in your garden?

Something is comforting and frustrating at the same time as we reflect on this, which is why it’s probably not as memorable and popular a parable.  The comforting thing is that we hear Jesus’ acknowledge that all is not right.  Quite clearly, Jesus identifies that there is evil in the world – that the devil is real… that this enemy does look for all kinds of ways and opportunities to continue to cause people to turn away from God and turn on one another.  It’s reassuring to our longing for justice to hear Jesus not mince words in explaining that at the end of time, all sin and all evildoers will be dealt with as He explicitly talks of the realities of Heaven and Hell.

The frustration comes with the follow-up questions of why – questions that aren’t ever fully addressed: Why does evil exist?  Why doesn’t God take care of it now?  Why does He allow it to still afflict and affect others.  Why does God allow this?  Why are there weeds in His garden?

It was not until I found myself going through this litany of questions, asking why this, why that – that I heard the Lord’s voice speaking in my heart asking, “Well, why do you allow it?” And not in some heady social-justice manner of thinking where I can philosophically look at the world’s problems and imagine I have the answers, and I need to convince other people they are wrong.  But instead, on a much more personal level – why are there weeds in my garden?  Why am I not vigilant of outside, negative influences that sow fear, anger, and hatred in my heart?  Why do I look for happiness and satisfaction in ways other than how God calls me to?  Why do I give into selfishness and self-centeredness?  Why do I allow weeds in my garden?

I don’t have a good answer for that.  There are the sins I commit that I know I’m wrong at the time I’m doing it, and I don’t care – I’m just giving into the anger of the moment.  For example, a few weeks ago, this guy is texting on his phone, smoking his cigarette, and almost plowing his car into me while jogging.  I knew the anger in my heart, on my lips, and my actions were wrong, but at that moment, my brain overruled my heart, saying, well, he was wrong first – so two wrongs, they don’t make a right, but at that moment, I felt they canceled each other out.  That’s on me, and I knew it a few minutes later when I realized, “That was stupid… thank God you didn’t get hit, thank God there wasn’t an accident.” Those sins are somewhat easy to identify, repent of, and hopefully learn from.

But I think of other things when that self-awareness wasn’t so immediate.   I might have started out fighting for the right thing, but I didn’t recognize anger had crept into my heart about the issue or the people on the opposite side.  Where arrogance and being uncharitable crept in, whether in my thoughts or a response, and it wasn’t just about fighting for a cause; it became seeing people as enemies.  Looking around at our public discourse and debates on a whole range of things today, that seems to happen a lot.  But perhaps that’s not limited to our era.  There’s an anecdote recounted about one of the greatest of Catholic philosophers and writers, G. K. Chesterton.  A newspaper in 1905 asked readers to explain what they thought was wrong with the world.  Chesterton’s response was the shortest and most memorable: “The answer to the question ‘What is wrong’ is, or should be, I am wrong.’  Why do any of us allow weeds in our gardens?

Thank God, He is patient.  Thank God, He is loving.  Thank God, He is merciful.  That’s the good news of this Gospel.  That Jesus sees the potential within each of us to be a weed or abundant fruit – and keeps giving another chance, keeps waiting, He keeps reaching out to us to be mindful of His message – telling us in those closing words of today’s Gospel whoever has ears ought to hear.  Because even when we’ve made a mess of things, even when our sins have caused a mess in our lives and hurt others, He can create something new.   We are always just one confession away from being wiped completely clean and able to start afresh.

So much is messed up in our world right now.  But before I let that completely unsettle me and go down unproductive rabbit holes where I start making judgments and suggestions to the Lord on how things ought to be, I’ve learned it’s then that I need to stop… And to come back to being grateful, for example, that that guy didn’t plow me down with his car… knowing that the Lord has given me more time – to be attentive to my own weeds in my garden.  And maybe that’s the Lord’s hope, His plan – how much better would the entirety of His garden look if we all were to do the same?