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The Parable of “Bazinga”

July 20, 2023
Blessed Solanus Casey
A stylized graphic resembling a comic book with the word "BAZINGA" in bold letters.

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday of the Year, A

OSP, 2023

By Edward Foley, Capuchin


He was not quite the Karate Kid:

no Jaden Smith

no Ralph Macchio

no budding movie star … after all, he only had one arm

having lost his left one in a devastating car accident.


To build up his confidence

and with much encouragement from his family

he decided to study judo with a seasoned Master.


The boy did amazingly well,

but after three months of training

he had only been taught one move.


“Sensei,” he asked, “shouldn’t I be learning more moves?”

The Master replied, “this is the only move

you will ever need to know.”

Trusting his wise teacher, he continued training.


Months later, the Master enrolled the boy in a public tournament.

He did amazingly well, winning match after match

until, to everyone’s surprise, he ended up in the finals.


His opponent in that match was not only older

and more experienced

but was considerably stronger and towered above him.


Concerned that the boy with only a right arm might get hurt

the referee wanted to call off the match

but Sensei insisted that it go on.


With this daunting challenger

a grueling struggle ensued

but when his opponent dropped his guard

the boy used his one move to pin his opponent

winning match and tournament.


On the way home, after some silence

the young champion asked his Master,

“Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only 1 move?”


Sensei replied, “You won for two reasons:

first, you mastered one of the most difficult throws

in all of Judo,

and second, the only known defense for that move

is for your opponent to grab your left arm.”


There you have it

a baptized equivalent of a Sheldon Cooper “bazinga”

the unexpected final twist that catches us off guard

ambushes us with wisdom

pulls the rug out from under our presumptions

and delivers a considerable dose of humility

to those who think they understand.

It’s called a parable!


Jesus was a master of the parable

his most characteristic form of instruction

on full display again in today’s gospel.


Like other teaching strategies

parables have multiple dynamics,

which is why they are so effective.

One obvious dynamic

  • like in the right handed karate kid story
  • employing a move than can only be countered
  • by grabbing a missing left arm

is the element of surprise

that knocks the listener off balance.


In the process the parable dismantles our presuppositions

disrupts our usual line of thinking

and proposes unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable

new truths.


These dynamics are effective

because parables are the ultimate narrative onion

comprising increasingly complex layers

whose central message cannot be skimmed off the surface

but requires thoughtful excavation.


A superficial reading of today’s parable about wheat and weeds

could give the impression that God’s reign is binary

black and white

good and evil


that there are only wheat and weeds

saints and sinners

Christians and non-Christians

Irish and those who want to be:

one obviously good … the other highly questionable.


We are wired for this instinctive and problematic kind of thinking:

a source of much humor and critique:


Like Mark Twain’s: “There are basically two types of people.

People who accomplish things

and people who claim to have accomplished things.”

He concluded: “The first group is less crowded.”


Dear Abby suggested that the two kinds of people

are those who walk into a room and say, ‘There you are!’  and those who walk into a room and say, ‘Here I am!’


Humorous Robert Benchley summarizes:

“There are two kinds of people in the world,

those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world

and those who don’t.


Jesus is clearly in the second category.

In his ministry he did not divide folk up

into redeemable and irredeemable

worthy and unworthy

lovable and despicable.


Rather, his ministry was nothing less than an extended parable

that continuously scrambled traditional thinking

upended well established categories

and redefined the very reign of God.


That disruption is clearly operative in today’s parable

That in some ways raises more questions than answers.


From one perspective you could argue

that the agricultural advice Jesus is dispensing here is

don’t pull out the tares, the darnel, the lolium temultentum

the weed that looks like wheat

but is bitter to the taste and even poisonous.


Instead, a surface reading has Jesus saying “wait!

Hold on until harvest when we will savor the wheat

and torch that bothersome weed,

that weapon of the enemy.  Justice will be served.


But like every parable, things aren’t always what they seem.

Maybe the weed is the equivalent of the wheat’s left arm!


In the topsy-turvey Jesus program

maybe this isn’t the obvious “last judgment parable”

a warning to all evil doers that they are going to burn,

and instead a warning to Jesus’ followers

that we were not anointed to be weed whackers

crop judgers

or field cops.


Instead, we were planted in God’s kingdom of diversity

  • and instructed to live in harmony
  • not to uproot each other, and instead
  • to share the soil with apparently invasive species
  • even to embrace the crabgrass.

At base level, I think Jesus was a weed lover.


While this interpretation might verge on the outlandish

it appears less so when considering how this tale of two seedlings

is deeply rooted in Matthew’s gospel

  • written in turbulent times,
  • shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem
  • when a growing Gentile population confronted his largely Jewish audience
  • and his community was challenged by false prophets, internal tensions and sometimes outright conflict:
  • spiritual crabgrass was everywhere.


So is the Jesus program the divine equivalent of

a Scott’s lawn care program designed

to execute any dandelion family

that dares to set foot in our community

or is it more like the prairie restoration programs

that increasingly grace our region

revitalizing important native ecosystems

and serving as important sanctuaries

for migratory species, native plants,

and essential pollinators.


Let’s face the facts: the Chicago park district does not have

a weed eradication program

for the Burnham Wildlife Corridor

though plenty of movements and legislatures today

do have programs intent upon

eradicating diversity

excluding migratory peoples, and ignoring

the graced pollination only these strangers can bring.

Ironically, maybe in their eyes, we are the weeds

trying to choke them out of their own human dignity.


Suzanne Simard is a Canadian scientist and forest ecologist

who forever changed how people view trees

their interconnection to each other and other living things.

Maybe you know her moving memoire, Finding the Mother Tree.


Born into a logging family in British Columbia

she began working for the public forest service

whose approach to sustainability

was clear-cutting large areas of the forest

and replanting a single, marketable species.


This approach was based on the notion of species competition

and the need to eliminate all competing plants or trees

in order to get the best, sustainable economic value.


Simard proved that this approach was counterproductive

that trees communicate through a complex web of fungi

that birch and fir were not competitors but collaborators

that magnetic hubs or Mother trees at the center of forests

communicate, nourish, and protect their environment

and in their dying become even more generous

sharing their carbon nutrients

with whatever species was in need.


Simard summarizes: “Somehow with my Latin squares and factorial designs, my isotopes and mass spectrometers and scintillation counters, and my training to consider only sharp lines of statistically significant differences, I have come full circle to stumble onto some of the Indigenous ideals: Diversity matters.”


In his stunning exposé on Soviet labor camps

the great Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

in his The Gulag Archipelago, warned:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?[1]


Instead of destroying hearts,

weeding out differences

eradicating strangers like invasive species

the Jesus program for kingdom care offers a different path:

to share soil

learn to cross-pollinate

nourish the flowering of others

even to develop holy envy for their flourishing.


In a word, hearts are not to be destroyed but changed:

softened, opened, extended, and transformed

mirroring that Sacred Heart of the only begotten

so vulnerable and accessible

that it was ultimately pierced on the cross

dramatically splayed open

that all might be nurtured in its love.


And so with the poet we pray

change our hearts

change our hearts

change our hearts O Lord

through Christ our Lord.  Amen.


[1] The Gulag Archipelago (Collins, 1974), 28.

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