“Whoever has ears ought to hear!”
What is it that we ought to hear in these readings for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time?
One thing that I hear as I listen to God’s Word in the Book of Wisdom and in the Gospel of Matthew is that God sees potential amidst our imperfections! In the first reading we hear that our God, “the master of might,” judges us with clemency. In spite of our human weakness and frailty, God looks upon us with mercy, with love, with patience. Our God believes in us and does not cease believing in us. The real question is whether or not we believe in God’s promise to provide the grace and strength that we need to get back up time and again. In Wisdom 12:17, it is written: “For you show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved.”
I saw the might of God during this past school year at Saint Martin de Porres High School. One hallmark of our school is a curriculum which strives to provide students with an education that is interdisciplinary and rooted in the students’ lived experience. One of the unique ways we try to achieve this is through long-term, grade-level projects in which students pick a topic of study related to either the sciences or humanities, engage in rigorous research, and share their work at an end of year exhibition. The reality is that many of our students are below grade-level in core subjects like math, science, and reading. So, of course, the perennial question emerges: Is it reasonable to expect students to complete such a rigorous and intensive research project when so many other pressing academic concerns exist?
I have been an adviser for the junior-class project each of my four years at Saint Martin and the conversation around that question is often lengthy and difficult. We often question if we have done enough to equip students for the task and whether or not these grade-level projects add an extra burden to our students’ already heavy load. We wrestle with doubt and sometimes despair until we get to Exhibition Night.
On Exhibition Night, students dress up in their professional best, family and friends fill the school and the students share all they have learned. This school year, Exhibition Night for the junior class took place in late May and our young scholars did a phenomenal job! “You show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved.” Who would have known? Who could have guessed?
The evening was inspiring and full of highlights including:
● A young woman who studied The Scream by Edvard Munch and passionately explained how his depiction of a screaming man resonated with her because she often feels desperate, unheard, and unnoticed by the people around her.
● One young man who enthusiastically told me how he now feels empowered to speak out against the objectification of women after listening to and investigating the themes present in Alicia Keys’ latest album entitled Here.
● Another young woman who bravely described the triggering, violent imagery in the song Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday and saw a line through to the tensions that currently exist in this country between law enforcement and communities of color.
Who would have guessed! Our students were primed and ready to look at the world with curiosity, passion, and empathy. They were eager to share about how works of art, poetry, music can be mirrors and windows that help us see ourselves and others more clearly. All they needed was an outlet, an opportunity to take a stand and speak out.
In the parable from Matthew 13, the master’s workers notice the weeds and are disturbed. Wasn’t this land supposed to be sown with good seed? What are all of these weeds doing here? Should we focus on disposing of them? The master tells his workers not to pull up the weeds from among the wheat because “If you pull up the weeds, you might uproot the wheat along with them.”
If we had listened to our fears, fixated on the inadequacies of ourselves and our students, and called off the project, when would our students have gotten the experience of speaking with knowledge and authority, of feeling important, of feeling heard on such a scale?
The Kingdom of Heaven is rooted in hope. If we truly intend to go about the work of bringing about the Kingdom of Heaven, we ought to practice the kind of hope that is modeled for us time and again throughout Scripture. The mustard seed that becomes the largest of all plants! The yeast that leavens three measures of wheat flour! Are we looking at each other and our world with the eyes of God? With eyes of HOPE? Are we seeing and tending to the potential and promise in the fields before us or are we fixated on the weeds—the challenges and imperfections sprinkled throughout?
Loving God, you who abound in kindness and fidelity, may we trust in your deep love for us and be strengthened by it. Train our eyes to see signs of hope and promise as we set out to do your will. Amen.
Vickey McBride is the Director of Campus Ministry at Saint Martin de Porres High School (Cristo Rey) in Cleveland, Ohio. Prior to working at Saint Martin, she lived and worked in Brownsville, Texas as a teacher in the Alliance for Catholic Education, earning her Master of Education degree from the University of Notre Dame. She contributed to Five Minutes with the Saints: More Spiritual Nourishment for Busy Teachers, a book of meditations published by Ave Maria Press in 2014. She serves as a music minister for her parish, Saint Patrick Parish, and as director of the Saint Martin de Porres Gospel Choir.