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Spirituality of the Readings
16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Year A
July 23, 2023
John Foley, SJ
Pulling Out Weeds

The subject, forgiveness, is hefty enough for Jesus to devote a well-known parable to it. In it, servants ask the master whether they should pull out weeds that have grown up within the wheat-field.

Forgiveness is letting go of an angering injury and giving God a chance to love.

“No,” he replies. “If you pull up the weeds you might pull up the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest” (Gospel).

So, if you or I have sinned, then we have weeds growing up along with the good that is in us. Would we like that failed part of us to be uprooted? No. Instead, God lets us develop, without destruction, steadily forgiving our weeds.

So, what kind of reality is forgiveness?

For one thing, it reverses an attitude at the bottom of entire ancient cultures and still perhaps at the root of modern (American) entertainment. If someone harms me or my family (or … ), then I have the right and duty to destroy them. They are bad persons, not good, and no punishment is too severe.

Do not get me wrong, this kind of “justice” does in fact work. Take a look at the heroes in movies fighting person to person across the tops of skyscrapers, bare-knuckle blows to the face, spinning kicks to the head, all leading ultimately of course to the fabulous plummet over the side, in which we are entertained with magnificent slow-motion shots of the crook’s terror as he heads for the inevitable splotch. Justice is established. Everyone is relieved and happy. Except, of course, the bad guy.

Just for fun, pretend that you are that bad guy. Is there a reason you are committing crimes, ones that merit such punishment? Is it possible that one part of you went haywire but that there is much good in you, much that could be brought back to life? Is there a part of you that says, “I wish I could stop this ugliness and be pardoned”?

If so, maybe you could look at the point of Sunday’s Gospel. When someone hurts us with their wrongs (or vise versa), maybe we can avoid rushing up to them to rip out weeds. Mixed with all the crab grass there are lovely flowers, and God loves very much all that they are.

Look, the crimes we commit don’t really agree totally with our inner self! None of the weeds growing up in us are wonderful, but they are only a part of who we are. Our urge to steal, to impress others falsely, to get what we want no matter what, to be lazy, petulant, or … (please fill in the kind of wrong you yourself are drawn to). These are not a full description of who we are.

Let us do our best to tolerate the thorns and keep our hands off them. Our own weeds are treated with care. What if Jesus had said from the cross, “Father, damn them to hell forever because of what they are doing to me”? He said instead “forgive them, they know not what they do.” He knew there was good wheat in them, even alongside terrible weeds.

Forgiveness is letting go of an angering injury and giving God a chance to love. Wouldn’t you like to be loved and forgiven this way?

John Foley, SJ

Father Foley can be reached at:
Fr. John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ, is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.

Art by Martin Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go