Finding God in the Weeds: Hamilton and the Homeless

Fr. Bob in front of the theater
A week ago last Friday, Maryknoll Father Bob Jalbert and I had the privilege to attend the hit play Hamilton at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. Before the performance, on the sidewalk in front of the entrance, folks gathered in their finest to take pictures and socialize.  As we were watching, two police officers quickly escorted a homeless person away from the scene.

The theater sits on the edge of the Tenderloin, which has the largest concentration of homeless in the area.  While normally this may have gone by unnoticed by us, we were uncomfortably struck by the irony.   We had just spent the previous week accompanying a group of people who participated in a mission immersion experience of working in the Tenderloin with the homeless.  Although we couldn't bring ourselves to scalp our tickets at a handsome profit and give the proceeds to the poor, it left us with much to ponder.

At St. Anthony's getting ready to serve lunch
As I reflected on today's Gospel reading, in which Jesus offers the parable of the farmer faced with the dilemma of weeds being sown in his wheat crop, I could not help but think that the police officers were simply doing their job of removing the weeds from the otherwise idyllic festive scene.  However, in the parable Jesus advises us to leave the weeds be, otherwise in the pulling them up, we may also pull up the wheat.   It can all be sorted out in the end, he says.

The homeless make us uncomfortable, people we'd rather not encounter.  As the group gathered on the Sunday before they embarked on their work in the Tenderloin, many shared how the homeless make feel disturbed and unsettled.  Some also indicated that they were afraid of them and would rather cross the street than get close to them.

By the end of week, as they shared their reflections, most experienced a profound transformation.  They were surprised that when they sat down and had lunch with the homeless, they found welcome, acceptance and hospitality. As they listened to the tales of failure, bad breaks, mental health issues and addiction, they also heard stories of hope, redemption and joy. They realized a common humanity with those relegated to the margins that helped them better understand themselves and their own brokenness.

What appeared initially to be weeds that they wished weren't there, became wildflowers, an unexpected encounter with God.   They discovered the importance of checking our initial assumptions about what is good versus bad, beautiful versus ugly, valuable versus trash.

Pope Francis reminds us in the Joy of Gospel,
[A community of missionary disciples] cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds. The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear.
Perhaps the advice of Jesus and Pope Francis is to be careful about too quickly judging or removing the weeds because they may serve an important purpose is helping us realize that love is sometimes found at the margins.
My takeaway this week:  Pay closer attention to the people and situations that first appear to be weeds.  Be patient, don't be afraid of the messiness, don't be too quick to sanitize the situation and let the mystery that is God unfold before my eyes.   And who knows, maybe if I do that, I'll be transformed and get to the point where I would have sold the tickets and given the money to the man who was be escorted away.

Stay tuned, during the next few weeks, we will share the reflections of those who participated in the mission immersion trip to the Tenderloin.

Deacon Matt Dulka is the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers Associate Director for Church Engagement in the U.S.  

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