Wheat and Weeds by Rev. Joseph M. Rampino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
He proposed another parable to them. "The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?' He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' His slaves said to him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' He replied, 'No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, "first collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn."'"
He proposed another parable to them. "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'"
He spoke to them another parable. "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened." All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world."
Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field." He said in reply, "He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear."
Isaiah Chapter 55 says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways” (55:8). This reminder the Lord gives us through his prophet may well resound in our minds as we consider the Gospel passage for the 16th week in ordinary time. In this text, Christ makes clear that though the wicked certainly grow among the good in the field of the world, he is the one who will separate them out at the end of time, and it is not ours to root them out at will.
This stands in direct contradiction of worldly wisdom in our current age. So often we hear calls for immediate justice, that all those who do what is unjust be brought to light, punished and, if necessary, removed from our society. We live and move in a world that demands the removal of all those who stand against the more perfect human community of which we dream. On a smaller scale, the world tells us that we are right to remove people from our lives who contradict our feelings and beliefs, that we have no obligation to interact with anyone we find consistently unpleasant, indeed — that we may freely cancel whomever we please in the pursuit of our own happiness. The desire of the servants to rush immediately into the field so they can pull up the offending weeds is familiar to us.
And yet Christ tells them, and us, that it would be wrong to pull the weeds from among the wheat. When we honestly confront this teaching, we may wonder what exactly the Lord has in mind. Does he not want justice in the world? Would he rather that we allow injustice and falsehood to fester until the end of time? Christ himself knows our fear, and explains that we must not pull up the weeds because we “might uproot the wheat along with them.”
There are several ways in which an unbridled zeal for justice can indeed do damage even to good people. First, it is difficult to tell the difference between weeds and wheat while they are still growing. If we pull up whatever we think might be evil at first glance, we may find ourselves misjudging and going after the innocent, harming the reputations or spiritual lives of people we simply had not understood correctly. Tearing up the weeds also damages the ground in which the wheat grows. Moral panics and revolutions of every age, while perhaps gaining something for the strong who survive the time of turmoil, often harm the weak and innocent, making it more difficult for the average person to live a good life, rather than easier. Finally, those who enact justice too harshly and too freely often find that they themselves have become warped in the process, having taken on a role that not only belongs to God, but which only God has the knowledge and power to accomplish. While the eternal God can enact both exact perfect justice and total mercy, we who are smaller often forget mercy in pursuit of total justice. We perhaps forget that it is love of each person, good and evil alike, that motivates both justice and mercy in our God, and that only love for both our friends and our enemies will heal our souls and aid the salvation of the world.
The Lord will indeed bring all things to justice in the end, bringing down and punishing all evil, no matter how hidden, and rewarding all good, no matter how forgotten. We do not need to worry about whether or not he will take care of the order of the world. We can entrust that grand future to him, knowing that by showing charity to our neighbor in the present, we assist him in the way he desires.