One of the great disappointments of my life was the painful realization that every religious group to which I belong is imperfect. This should not have surprised me. Religious or not, each group is made up of limited human beings. Still, idealistic as I was, I expected more of religious people. But then, what right did I have to point a finger at others? My own limitations should have given me some insight into this matter.
I am not the only person who has been disappointed in this way. We all know good, sincere people who have left the church because they are disappointed with some of its members. They are offended by poor liturgies or uninspiring preaching; they can no longer abide the sexism or racism that grips so many; they are disillusioned by the disregard of the privileged for the vulnerable and needy of the world; they are horrified by the abuse of power and authority. They maintain that the church should be above such misconduct.
There certainly are many people within the church who stand in opposition to such evils and who do what they can to eliminate them. Still, the church is not perfect; nothing made up of limited human beings is. And in our own ways, we all contribute to this lack of perfection. This is no excuse for wrongdoing; it is simply a statement of fact. The church is “already but not yet” holy.
Jesus was well aware of this condition. We see this in the parable of today’s Gospel. The field (the church) contains both wheat and weeds. Our inclination might be to rid that field of those we consider undesirable. Jesus insists: No! In our zeal to uproot what is bad, we might uproot what is good. Besides, who determines which is which? Dishonorable people have often been thought to be righteous, while the truly righteous have been overlooked. Furthermore, there is always the possibility of conversion. In the meantime, we belong to a church that is an assemblage of sinners, ourselves among them.
The Gospel further suggests ways of living in the church with other limited people. The parable of the mustard seed teaches us to overcome our gender, racial, ethnic, economic and any other biases in order to make room for all people. The parable of the yeast prompts us to lose ourselves in order that the community may be transformed into something that is life-giving.
It is precisely through the give-and-take of life with other selfish, inconsiderate sinners that we learn to be patient and understanding, tolerant and forgiving. We need not be merely offended by each other; we can also be encouraged and inspired. Today’s reading from Wisdom reminds us that we are God’s people, and it is God’s church. With the responsorial psalm we acknowledge that our God is good and forgiving. This same God has gathered sinners together into a church where we can become holy, even though we may not be there yet.