I offer a throwback post on this date, to mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses…a reflection I wrote earlier this year after encountering a curious garden spot in northwestern Ohio.
The beautiful flower bed saddened me enormously…and instantaneously.
Not the kind of reaction you’d expect a well-tended garden to elicit, perhaps. But there it is.
If you take a stroll through the overwhelmingly pleasant Washington Park in downtown Sandusky, Ohio, this summer…you’ll come upon this:
Beauty, celebrating brokenness. A floral tribute to the quincentenary of regrettable division within the Body of Christ. Separation, with plenty of blame to go around—the split fed by the sinfulness of the Catholic and Protestant churches alike.
The tidy garden spot in Sandusky has haunted my spirit ever since I saw it a few weeks ago, but it’s only in wrestling with this Sunday’s gospel passage that I think I’m finally beginning to understand why it’s been weighing me down.
The flower bed is practically weedless, you see. Which suggests that it has been tenderly cared for…and nurtured. Savored, in a way. Even relished…perhaps not unlike how we treat the doctrinal differences that have separated Catholics and Protestants for these 500 years.
Which is to say, we Christians seem to take pride in our differences at times – when on some level, they ought to be experienced as a source of shame. Or at the very least, a cause of profound humility.
Instead, we tend to focus on the objective of weedlessness…toiling to tear out ‘invasive species,’ highlighting all the things that keep us apart. But this festering instinct is in direct contradiction to the wisdom Jesus shares with us in Sunday’s gospel.
His slaves said to him,
‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds
you might uproot the wheat along with them.
Let them grow together until harvest…
In recent years, my participation in the interdenominational Kairos Prison Ministry has been a source of great blessing to me, personally. It has put me into direct contact with Christians of other traditions. It has given all of us—as Kairos teammates—the opportunity to act on the great commission recounted in another section of Matthew’s gospel: ‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…’ (Matthew 28:19) In our formation meetings, we talk about consciously setting our differences aside, so that we can focus on sharing the Good News. But perhaps what we’re actually doing is something more like allowing the wheat and weeds to grow together—as the Lord commands.
As I meditate on that Kairos experience…and on the words I hear in scripture this week…I notice that the desire for weedlessness can be counterproductive at times. There’s an arrogance in it. We don’t always know what greater good we might be uprooting in the process.
But we do have a blessed assurance, as St. Paul reminds in the passage we hear this week from his letter to the Romans (8: 26-27)—the assurance of the Holy Spirit’s presence and guidance:
The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God’s will.
Come, Holy Spirit: Aid our weakness. Heal our divisions. Help to make our Body one!
My prayer remains the same today as it was in July: That we Christians find a way to resolve our differences, and to move forward together as one in proclaiming the Good News to a broken world.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.