Over the years the parable of the weeds in the field, which we had in the lectionary as the parable itself (Matthew 13:24-30) this past Saturday and then again today as the 'in-house' explanation given to the disciples (13:36-43), has become for me one of Jesus' most comforting words.
For as the world is populated by the children of the Kingdom and the children of the evil one, so we ourselves are like the field where weeds have been sown along with the wheat. And, as the master of the field says, the way they are tangled together--at the roots, presumably--makes it hard to simply pull up the weeds and be rid of them without also compromising the growth of the wheat.
In other words, it's not like our holiness and our sinfulness, our good points and our pitfalls, our gifts and our flaws are such discrete and separate things. As individual created persons, we are a unity. Like the tangled roots of the wheat and weeds, so the goodness and evil in each of us.
For example, the temperament that makes someone patient might at other times make him passive. The gift of caring for others can turn into the need to be needed. The desire for righteousness and justice can edge into intolerance and a frustrated zeal for the reform of others. At the very core of the human being is the desire of the heart to go out of itself, to lose itself and thus find freedom in loving another. Indeed, this is the very engine of prayer, as we strive in prayer to open ourselves to the Other whom our hearts most desire. But too often this basic spiritual energy gets lazy and settles for less than its genuine object, God, and lets itself be corrupted into lust, or worse, the dirtier modalities of lust such as possessiveness or the drive to control or use others.
There's a debilitating frustration that can creep into the practice of a devout life, as we start to despair, in little, secret ways, of being rid of the weeds that choke our spirit and keep us--and those around us--suffering. As we grow in holiness and devotion, we might also feel like we are 'growing in sin' at the same time, as the roots seem to get more and more tangled.
We want to pull up the weeds in one grand gesture, one confession made especially well, one very devout retreat. But it just can't happen like that. The roots of the weeds are tangled with the roots of our goodness, of our preciousness to God. To uproot the weeds without ruining the growth of the wheat takes time and patience. God is so good and so delightful that we want to run with him. But his invitation is to walk.