When Jesus interpreted the parable of the weeds, He talked about the world with good and evil people. He specified that the task of weeding questionable people out of the community was not part of the disciples’ job description. Every age has religious perfectionists. They interpret precisely how strict rules apply to each situation.
And they strive to maintain themselves in pure virtue. Periodically, there has been the desire for Christians to try to produce a pure Church free of sinners. It is a good thing that they do not succeed, or there would be few of us left in the Church. Yet, this is precisely what Jesus did not do. He gathered around Himself tax collectors, betrayers and adulterers.
He reached out to persons considered unclean by the culture of the day. He ate and socialized with the less reputable elements of society. If we are truthful with ourselves, we must admit that each one of us is a mixture of sinfulness and righteousness.
We soon come to realize that the Church is not so much a club for Saints as it is a hospital for sinners.
The Son of God became human not to make contact with angels. He became human to be with us and not because we are nice people who deserved a visit from our Creator. But, because there was no way for us to reach God unless God reached out to us.
And He reached out not just to the good people. He reached out to those who the world looked down upon. When the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled to His disciples, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered by saying, “It is not the healthy who have need of a physician, but the sick. I have not come to invite the upright to reform, but the sinners.”
But, He tells us the righteous are not without sin. Take, for example, the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son. He says, “Father, these many years I have served you and never once have I disobeyed a command of yours.” It sounds good. No fault.
But, look inside his heart: anger at his father, resentment towards his brother. Look how he separates himself from the party and refuses to go in. They are upright in their own eyes, not in God’s.
Then look at the story of the woman caught in adultery. Picture the scene, a group of men drag this woman down the street, the crowd gathers. They throw her in front of Jesus like a rag doll and they accuse her of adultery. Notice that there was no mention of the man who was also involved in this situation. The whole reason for this charade is to discredit Jesus. They had the perfect question to trap Him.
It’s almost as if they said, “He cannot get out of this one.” They ask, “Master, this woman was caught in adultery. What should we do with her?” If Jesus says to follow the law and stone her, He will lose credibility with many of His followers. If He says to let her go, He is in trouble with the law. But, Jesus is gentle not only with the woman but also with her self-righteous accusers. What does He do?
Jesus did not shout and rave. He simply bent over gently and wrote in the sand with His finger. His action stood out like a clap of thunder in the silence of a summer night. The answer to their question was gentle honesty, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus is the point of contact between a sinful humanity and a forgiving God.
But there are conditions to forgiveness. Both the Jewish and Christian traditions link forgiveness to change. Change in behavior and change in human action. Forgiveness is linked to real contrition. Many times, we may feel more like the weeds in today’s Gospel than the wheat.
Just remember the words of the psalms:
“You, O Lord are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity. Turn towards me and have pity on me. Give your strength to your servant.”
But also remember the words of Jesus to the woman caught in adultery. “Go your way and sin no more.”