There is a well-known book called Gulliver’s Travels, often thought of as a children’s story, but actually a biting satire very much written for adults. The most well-known part of Gulliver’s Travels is the first part, when Gulliver ends up shipwrecked on the isle of Lilliput, where all the inhabitants are about six inches tall. It turns out that there is a neighboring island called Blefuscu where the inhabitants are exactly like the Lilliputians. But they loathe each other. The only difference between them being the people of one island believe that the right way to eat an egg is by cracking the little end, and the people of the other island believe that the right way is by cracking the big end. So they pejoratively call each other the “Big-Endians” and the “Little Endians”. And occasionally they go to war with each other and so on.
I think we all recognize how ridiculous this is. Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, is satirizing the all-too-human tendency to use differences between different groups of people as a reason to basically despise one another. I went to grade school at St. Paul’s in Grand Rapids, and I remember the severe antagonism we had towards anyone who went to Immaculate Heart of Mary, just a mile down the road, even though we all had basically the exact same background. The only reason for the antagonism was that they were not “one of us.”
This sentiment plays itself out over and over in every age, every society, every nation. It is most certainly playing itself out in the USA at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century. The story of the Big-Endians and the Little Endians came to mind when I read this week’s Gospel, which includes Jesus’ parable of the weeds and the wheat.
Jesus helpfully explains this parable to his disciples, very clearly identifying who is who in this parable: namely, that the good seed or the wheat in the parable are “the children of the Kingdom” and the weeds being “the children of the Evil One.” But rather than uprooting the weeds so that the wheat can grow and flourish without them, the man who sowed the seed instructs his servant to leave the weeds alone, lest in uprooting them some of the wheat would also be uprooted accidentally. Effectively he tells his servants, “Don’t worry; at harvest time we will sort it all out and the weeds will be burned.”
A very sad, erroneous, and dangerous belief that emerges from time to time in history – too often – is the thinking that, if only this or that group of people were not around, the world, society, life, whatever, would be better. Usually this thinking grows to prominence when people make the mistake of thinking they can create the perfect society, the perfect world, etc., in this world – and especially when they think they can do so without God. We have only to look to two of the competing political movements of the 20th century – fascism and communism – to see how that turns out: violence, destruction, war, and so on. In the end, it doesn’t work; it never works, and humanity is worse off.
There is a much milder version of this at work in our political process, specifically in the erroneous belief that if we can just get our political party in power and get rid of anyone of the opposite party, or anyone who doesn’t hold the exact same political beliefs, then finally our country will turn around; the problems will be solved, and we can all hold hands and sing Kumbaya. It’s pretty rare for one party to completely dominate every branch of government at the same time, but even when it does happen, we don’t end up with the utopia we dreamed of. The world is still messy. And then the finger-pointing and the scapegoating continue.
What does this have to do with the parable of the weeds and the wheat? The point I am trying to make is that unfortunately we human beings have a very human tendency that comes from our fallen human nature of deciding for ourselves who are the weeds and who are the wheat. But that is not our role. First, because we don’t know everything; we don’t have all the information, and we can’t read the hearts of others. Only God can do those things. Second, when we decide who are weeds and who are wheat, we are forgetting about the possibility of conversion. While we’re breathing, that possibility exists for each one of us and for everyone else. Why didn’t Jesus wipe out Matthew the tax collector and prevent him from cheating people out of their money? Why didn’t Jesus wipe out Saul and prevent the persecution and deaths of innocent Christians? Because Matthew later converted and wrote his Gospel which has evangelized countless people through the centuries. And because Saul repented and became Paul, who first spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.
Conversion is real and thank God for that, because that means that there is hope not only for others but also for ourselves, as imperfect and sinful as we often are. Only God can judge, and He will do that. God is merciful, but He is also just, and as we heard, one day the true children of the evil one will be separated from the children of the Kingdom, and there will be judgment.
In the meantime, let’s seek to be as patient and understanding of one another as possible. Let’s stop breathing fire at people on social media, in stores and on the streets. Let’s focus on the only person we can truly change – ourselves – and our own conversion of heart.