Wheat and Weeds

20 07 2008

Today’s Gospel reading is one of the many parables that Jesus tells which talks about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like (notice he never says what it is). The Gospel of Matthew has many lessons for anyone wishing to see concrete examples of how our lives as followers of Christ play out in the real world, and the parables can teach us a thing or two about how we can apply those lessons….if we can also learn to hear them. Many read today’s parable of the Wheat and the Weeds as saying that there are those that are part of the kingdom (the wheat) and those who are not (the weeds).

We can also read it as a parable of the Church, where committed members often sit side-by-side with those who are indifferent to the mission of the Church or use the community to serve their own ends or have the chance to exercise power and authority in their otherwise mundane lives. Sometimes when one party prevails over another it is easy to grumble and wish the others would just go away and leave. They take the stance that the one’s causing all the fuss are just rotten apples who are spoiling the whole bunch and should be taken out of the barrel.

Let’s face it, the Church is full of the good and the not-so-good, and there have been times when the Church has done outright evil in the name of God. The wheat and the weeds live side-by-side, but still the Kingdom grows. In the parable, those who are tending the field get edgy about all these weeds and then start to panic when the landlord declares that an enemy is responsible for the weeds growing in what otherwise would be a fruitful crop. So, those tending the field want to take matters into their own hands (literally!) by uprooting the weeds.

Instead, the landlord encourages patience, for if the tenders of the field take it upon themselves to uproot the weeds, they will undoubtedly uproot the wheat as well. The desire to have a more pure crop is understandable, and the tenders might even succeed in getting rid of the weeds, but a lot of the good stuff will be lost and the harvest will be lessened. The message is clear: no matter what the end result of the field’s purification, the separation will mean irreparable damage. The landlord understands that at the time of the harvest the wheat and the weeds will be separated.

In his interpretation, Jesus says that the field of wheat and weeds is the world. We can liken the wheat to the Kingdom of Heaven. Despite all the weeds, there is no place in the field where the Kingdom is not present and is not growing. Indeed, the weeds do not seriously threaten the Kingdom enough to warrant premature intervention and they are not interfering with the wheat’s growth. In the face of evil, sometimes the appropriate response is to do nothing. Yes, there is evil in the world and evil in the Church, but sometimes the best thing to do is not redress wrongs but show forebearance and forgiveness … which is hard. In their desire to purify the field, they would ultimately get rid of everything, weeds and wheat alike because in their anxiety they will not be able to distinguish between the good and the bad.

We cannot finish talking about the parable without looking at its eschatological aspects regarding the Final Judgment. The point that I believe worth noting is that the separation of wheat and weeds is not up to anyone but God, who will do that at the end of the age. We cannot know who is wheat or who is weed, for there is both wheat and weed in each and every one of us. Matthew and other parts of the New Testament talk about the need to do good works but they also talk about having those works backed up by good intentions and good character … an inner commitment that stems from the gift of faith in Christ. When either the desire or action is lacking, we can say that “our weeds are showing.”

In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he spends the first 7 chapters or so explaining our condition and about the conflict between good and evil that is a part of our very selves. He even points to himself, saying that he wants to do good but finds himself not doing so, and then ends Chapter 7 with the lament “O wretched man that I am, who will save me from the body of death?” He then starts Romans 8 with the theme, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” and applies that principle to our conflicts. In today’s passage which begins by talking about our indebtedness to God to drive home the point of our obligations to God’s Kingdom, there is rich language extoling the gifts given to us and our hope for the future. Our obligation to God, however, does not stem so much from an indebtedness or the idea that “Jesus paid it all” on the cross, though he touches on that. But even more so, our obligation to the Kingdom is because we have received not a spirit of slavery into God’s Kingdom, but a spirit of adoption. In other words, we are not merely servants of the Kingdom, but children and joint-heirs of the Kingdom.

However, our future relief from the conflicts of the wheat and the weeds is not meant to be an escape hatch into heavenly bliss. St Paul recognizes suffering and conflict as a clear and present reality that affects not only us, but all of Creation, for everything in the created order is interconnected. Every animal, vegetable, and mineral groans in pain and discomfort longing to be set free from our bondage to death and decay.

Talk of judgment tends to produce anxiety or shuts down the conversation as it usually touches on trying to determine who’s in and who’s out and talking about “those people” who we think should be out if they’re not already. The important thing to remember is that no one escapes judgment and no one escapes the offer and gift of mercy and grace. Our passages today show us that God is active in our deliverance and our judgment. We have assurance that God will be the one who separates the wheat and the weeds in the world, in our community, in our church … and in each of us. Even though it seems there are weeds all around and weeds inside of us, we can rest assured that our future is a bright one and full of hope. The one to whom is given the authority to judge is also the one who forgives unconditionally and confirms to us that the promises of God are to be trusted.

Amen.

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7 responses

20 07 2008
Jesus

Wait until after the weeds sprout and have leaves; then pounce on them with your herbicide. Jesus

20 07 2008
FranIAm

We shall never know if we are weed or wheat, really. Nor of the other. That said, let us err on the side of mercy and not judgment.

At least that is what I think… OCICBW.

21 07 2008
Reverend boy

Fran, absolutely. Indeed a point I was trying to make is that we cannot hope to uproot weeds without uprooting ourselves, for we are both wheat and weed.

22 07 2008
John-Julian, OJN

The interesting thing to me in this passage is that if one thinks carefully about it, one realizes that this is a message from the Lord via the evangelist TO THE CHURCH! There wasn’t any historical point in referencing the whole secular (or even Jewish) world about exclusion — I mean, there was no question about excluding, say, the Pharisees. The issue was about excluding perceived sinners from within the body of the still-new Church!

Remember that this was written around 60 AD, and it actually tells us more about the early Church than it does about Jesus himself — I mean, just on a practical basis, the parables that were remembered and written down by the Evangelists were those which seemed to have application to early Christian life. (I’m sure there were a lot more parables which were forgotten because they were irrelevant to that early Christian life.) So the weeds and wheat were present WITHIN Church of the day — just as they are in the Church of TODAY.

The important point for us, of course, is that by virtue of divine Grace, some of us weeds still have the capability of actually turning into wheat — so don’t throw us out yet! Like the fig tree — give us another year or so and nourish us with the fertilizer of love, and we may yet bear fruit!

22 07 2008
Reverend boy

Thanks, John-Julian … You and Fran have improved upon my points better than I was at making them.

23 07 2008
Doorman-Priest

I enjoyed your version. Isn’t it great that the Spirit inspires us all to see different perspectives?

21 09 2008
may

i cant understand it.

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