FR. JOE JUKNIALIS
SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.”
Always there are the weeds. They surprise us, catch us off guard. Is it not so also with our lives, our lonely selves? We seek to do good, to live lives sown with kindness and generosity and love, only to recognize to our chagrin a scattered crop of selfishness as well. There are always the weeds.
All of life seems to reap such convoluted harvests, not only in us but in all of which we are a part. In every people and in every generation it becomes a mark of society, of culture, of government, even of the Church. Some call it the work of the evil one, others original sin, others the tug of our egos. Always weeds.
As a child growing up in Fond du Lac, I had not known of ethnic jokes, in part because of my family I suppose, but also because of the culture of that small town, or so it seemed at the time. In high school, I attended a seminary boarding school in rural Wisconsin. There, on occasion, I would hear Polish jokes, though I thought the humor strange. Once, I asked my mother how it was that such jokes were thought to be funny. She explained how bias and prejudice toward some ethnic groups always seem to find their way into our society.
For college and graduate work in theology, I came to Milwaukee. There, the seminary population was much more diverse. At that time, Polish jokes were common fare, so much so that by the time I was ordained a priest, I had the distinct but distorted sense that Polish people were somehow not as bright as the rest of the population.
How had that come about, I began to ask myself. What had produced such a shift from looking at Poles no differently than I did the Irish or Germans or Italians or my own ethnic Lithuanian heritage, but to consider that specific ethnic group as somewhat disadvantaged. It didn’t matter that I could name notable contributions to culture and life by great Poles, people like Nicolaus Copernicus, Frederic Chopin, Marie Curie and Thaddeus Kosciuszko. Yet in some strange way and without having realized it, I had been reshaped into a prejudice I had not previously known. From whence come such weeds of prejudice that we find sown in our lives?
This summer has been a time of growing consciousness of the racial prejudices in our society and culture, in our very selves. Initially, it was seen with the violence perpetrated by some police officers. However, to recognize such racial prejudice in them and not to recognize it in our own psyches, in our own souls, would be greatly dishonest. Racial prejudice has become and is a part of who we are as a people – in each of us, consciously and unconsciously, whether we live in urban communities or rural ones, in small towns or in suburbs. It shows itself in the disparities of education and health care and housing and job opportunities. It shows itself in our denials. Like weeds, it arises in each of us and so corrupts our thinking, our relationships, our very spirits.
In time, the protests and demonstrations of this summer will come to an end. Then the long and difficult work of changing not only ourselves, but also our societies, will lie before us. Difficult decisions by local and national governments will need to be made. There will be financial costs, changes in priorities, reorganizing the very comfortable patterns each of us has grown accustomed to. It will need to change how we act toward one another, how we work in the public square, how we speak not only to one another but also about one another. As has been frequently articulated in recent days, the burdens of such work will need to be borne not only by the minority communities but even more so by the white communities. Always the advantaged have a responsibility to care about the disadvantaged.
“The reign of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.”
Is it too preposterous to think how all that has been recently taking place is the Yeast of God transforming the wheat that once grew with the weeds, transforming us into bread to feed one another?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
In every life there are both wheat and weeds. Name some of the weeds you recognize in your own life.
How does racial prejudice sprout in you?