Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 13:24-43
July 23, 2017

If you drive past my house during the spring and summer, one glance will alert you to the fact that I am no gardener. I could easily use my knees, my back, and certainly my advanced age as an excuse for what many would call “neglect.” But the reality is that even when I was younger, pulling weeds was just not my thing. Moreover, I’m not good at it. When I try to “clean things up,” I end up killing the good stuff…and clearing space for the bad stuff to thrive.

Having driven past my house myself and noticed that my yard needs a little TLC, a good buddy sent over “the kid” that keeps my friend’s yard looking like Dow Gardens. This young man has the proverbial touch. Not only a hard worker, who keeps at it until the job is done, he also has the skill to pick out the weeds, leaving the garden plants and giving them an opportunity to grow stronger and blossom. After he leaves, I really try hard to keep things looking nice. And although my knees, my back, and certainly my advanced age prevent me from doing what “the kid” can do…he inspires me to do what I can at least try to do! God Bless my buddy and “the kid!”

It seems that I hear…or hear of…a lot of preaching these days that tends to highlight certain words from our First Reading from the Book of Wisdom. I’m talking about words like: Condemned! Might! Perfection! Rebuke! Power! Just! And while it is certainly the case that God is perfectly just…and all that goes with that…there are other words in that First Reading that we frail, weak-kneed, sometimes spineless human beings need to focus on. Care! Lenient! Clemency! Kind! Repentance! Hope!

The first and longer of the three little parables that are this Sunday’s Gospel brings my back yard, as well as my spiritual life, to mind. But when I read and reflect on it, remembering those words that so often enjoy the spotlight by demanding preachers: Condemned! Might! Perfection! Rebuke! Power! Just! I get a little nervous. Who can honestly say that they haven’t had a bad thought or feeling, or an appetite that is contrary to God’s will? Most of the time, we don’t even know where they came from. These “weeds,” like dandelions, thistles, and crabgrass, just appear and then start to take over. And once they get ahold of us, we sometimes feel so overwhelmed that we don’t know where to begin. It’s then that we start with the excuses and let the weeds grow.

Just about the time I panic over the state of my “spiritual garden,” I think about our Second Reading (Romans 8:26-2). Like “the kid,” the Holy Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness. The Holy Spirit searches our hearts and tends to them with Care! The Spirit knows how our lives could look if this or that thought or feeling could be uprooted. With a Kind and gentle hand, The Spirit begins to clear away the bad things so that goodness, charity, and love have room to thrive. And when the work is done, The Spirit “sprays” (with an ecologically-friendly product) our “spiritual garden” with Repentance – a powerful preventative that stops the bad stuff from coming back – or at least slows it down.

When “the kid” pulls into my yard and sees how bad things have once again become, he NEVER condemns or rebukes me. “The kid” is Lenient! He quietly goes to work cleaning things up again. So, too, with the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit tempers God’s perfect justice with Clemency, quietly going about the work of removing what is bad and nourishing what is good; and leaving behind an enormous feeling of Hope! After this spiritual gardening, one can’t help but want to keep things looking nice. Sure, our knees are still sore, and our back is still weak, and the ever-present reality that the seeds of spiritual dandelions, crabgrass, and thistles continue to invade. But a visit from The Holy Spirit inspires us to do what we can…to try harder…until that day when The Master Gardener perfects us.

So, how does your yard look this summer? Need a little “TLC?”