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It’s All About Me

It was sometime in August when, listening to a daily Ignatian meditation, I came to see that the parables may not actually be about us and them, but about me.

The text for that day was the parable in Matthew 13:24-43, where a man sows a field with good seed. In the night the enemy comes and sows bad seed in the field. As the seeds sprout, the servants see the weeds growing among the wheat and ask the owner of the field if they should root out the weeds. No, says the owner. We will wait until the harvest and then we will harvest both and separate out the weeds from the wheat and burn the weeds. If we do it now, we will destroy the wheat.

“How is this like you?” the meditation guide asked. In the minute of silence that followed the question, my understanding of this parable, and many others, forever changed.

Sitting in the dark, I saw that this parable as not about bad guys and good guys being separated, but about the good and bad in me. I am a field sown with good seed, created in the image of the field’s owner. I am good. But the enemy sows weeds, unbeautiful deeds and thoughts, in me. I am a field with both good and bad plants growing, and in the end the bad will be rooted out and burned. This story is all about me — not about the world, but about me.

Why did this not reveal itself sooner? I am 74 years old. I have read the Bible over 30 times, and studied it. I had always seen it as us versus them, and of course I was the good seed. The bad seed would be burned in the end times, of course. But there was this niggling little question, always: How does this burning them fit in with what I know of the mercy of God?

God is about grace, second chances, and love. So, I used to wonder if I would be considered a weed when the Judgment came. After all, many other Christians consider Episcopalians bad seeds. But once the meditation guide invited me to ask how this parable was about me, the incompatibility of unconditional love and horrible punishment vanished.

I remembered when I first realized that I had weeds in myself. I was reading Ron Sider’s book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger while waiting in the Kendall County courtroom as a potential juror. Sider echoed Jesus, saying we should not invite friends to dinner (they will only return the invitation), but the poor. I loved to cook in those days. We had people for dinner often, and sitting in the courtroom, I knew exactly whom I needed to invite to dinner.


James and his wife and daughter had rolled into Comfort, Texas, where I lived and taught school, in a huge RV. He asked and was given permission to park it in the rocky parking lot adjacent to the middle school — and was given a job as a night janitor. When we teachers arrived in the mornings, James, about 65 years old, usually unshaven and missing a few teeth, would be drinking coffee from any coffee mug he could snag. He was friendly and he worked hard. He had a daughter in first grade, across the street in the elementary school. And he had a much younger wife.

I needed to invite James and his family to dinner.

I sat in the courtroom staring at the page, not seeing the words. James. James who left sugary sludge in the bottom of the coffee mug he used — which is how we knew he used our mugs. James, with his missing teeth, his worn-out clothes. James.

I couldn’t do it.

For the next several days I wrestled with that, telling Abba I was so sorry, but I could not invite James and his family. It wasn’t the food. I loved to cook. No, I couldn’t invite James and his family because he would think we were friends, and I didn’t want James to think we were friends. He would. Anyone would, if you invited them for a meal. And that made it impossible to invite James to dinner.

A few months later, his big RV was gone, just like that. But I never forgot my failing. I, a follower of Jesus, could not bear for a poor, grizzled vagabond janitor to think I was his friend. Did that make me a weed? Would I be burned at the harvest?

Years later, I had grown spiritually. Years later, I could easily have invited James and his family to dinner. But I was weeds in that situation. And, of course, I still am at times. Mostly I follow Jesus well. Mostly I have compassion. But I know without a doubt — because of my reaction to James — that I have weeds in me, also.

That parable about the field sown in wheat, with weeds sown in it? That was about me. It was not about groups, good Christians and bad ones. It was not about good Republicans and the weedy Democrats (or good Democrats and the weedy GOP). It was not about us and them. It was about me. I am good seed and bad.

My friend Linda helped me see this in a larger sense. As racism began to be addressed in this country, I was talking to her about lynchings in the South. There was a new National Memorial for Peace and Justice being built to mark the suffering, to make us aware, using terrible photos to make Americans look at this very real part of our history.

I was talking about this with Linda, who said: “Cynthia, I know about that. But I have traveled a lot, and people in the South are the kindest people I have ever met in this country.” And she is right. My son sold insurance for a while, and he claimed there was something in the water of Mississippi that made people nice. Second kindest was Arkansas. He couldn’t figure it out, but they were kind. Good.

Wheat and weeds, in the same person. The same person who was laughing at a lynching also was helping a neighbor rebuild after a fire. I now never read any parable as about us and them. I now read every parable as describing the flawed and the precious in all of us.

The Advent season invites us to prepare for the kingdom of God by casting off the works of darkness, and asking God to pluck out and burn the weeds that have taken root within us all. The parables can help us, if we read them primarily as about us. These stories are about the great mercy of God, who knows the good and the bad in us, and invites us into the kingdom, where we will all be transformed — weeds burned away — into the likeness of God.

Cynthia Caruso is a former high school math teacher and a retired priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan. She wrote “Seeing Through God’s Eyes,” Forward Movement’s 2009 Advent booklet. She is married to Jim Enelow, a deacon. They live in Saint Joseph, Michigan.


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