October 30, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good new todays from Matthew 13:24-30.
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 the 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.”‘”
This parable only appears in the gospel of Matthew, although some scholars believe this is Matthew’s elaboration of Mark’s parable in chapter four about a man scattering seed, watching it sprout and grow of its own accord, and then wielding the sickle when it is ripe. Mark is the only gospel writer to include this version without the weeds. If this is the source of Matthew’s parable, he wants to make a different point.
The weed that Jesus used to illustrate his point was bearded darnel, a poisonous plant that is nearly indistinguishable from wheat while it is first growing. (The King James Version calls weeds tares; the Douay-Rheims Version uses cockles; and the Jerusalem Bible translation uses darnel.) As this kind of weed grows to the stage of clearly appearing to be a weed, its roots have become completely entwined with the roots of the wheat. The Jews called it bastard wheat as if it were illegitimate offspring. It was sorted out at harvest by women who could tell the difference only by its gray color. The sowing of darnel seed was by one’s enemy was enough of a threat that Roman law forbade it and proscribed a punishment. Jesus knew that his listeners would understand the insidious infiltration of sin by this analogy.
There are as usual several ways to understand this parable. One is that God has created us from good seed, to grow into fullness in the kingdom and to be harvested for eternal life. But sin invades and wraps its roots around us in our deepest selves in such a way that sometimes we can’t distinguish between good and sin. Sometimes we let our sin develop because it feels so good — the seven deadly or cardinal sins of lust, greed, pride, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Sometimes we excuse our sin or justify it to the point that we no longer regard it as sin, as the poisonous weed it is. But there will be a day of judgment and why repentance is even at the last moment is salvation.
Another is that as workers in the field we should not be too quick to judge; we should not rush to tear up the poisonous weeds for we may destroy the wheat at the same time. It reminds me of Sister Helen Prejean and the Innocence Project, one advocating for the abolition of the death penalty and the other having worked to exonerate nearly 300 wrongfully convicted prisoners including 17 on death row through DNA testing. We are too often in a rush to judgment, eager to place blame on somebody, anybody. It also brings to mind our nation’s routine practice of using predator drones to kill our enemies and sometimes innocents that we euphemistically and impersonally refer to as collateral damage — pulling up weeds and uprooting the wheat at the same time.
We are too eager to play God, to judge and punish others for their transgressions while refusing to acknowledge our own. Jesus is telling us here to have patience, to be tolerant. Our judgment is too often premature and we often destroy the good along with the bad. Jesus advices us to leave them alone until the harvest time. God alone will determine whom He will gather into heaven and who will burned, utterly obliterated.
I am like the slaves of the householder. I tend to see people as good or bad and condemn the bad ones. I’m not very likely to give them a second or third or fourth chance. I want to keep them locked into a prison of my making. I have a hard time distinguishing their good qualities from their hurtful, sinful behavior. There’s no question in my mind that there are people in the world who have been completely consumed by evil and they must be confronted. But I don’t think those are the people that Jesus is talking about here. I think he’s talking about me and you, ordinary people who are a mix of divine and human. A mix of the good seed that God planted and that we have nourished and of the weeds of sin that we have allowed to grow up alongside. That is all of us and He will separate the good fruit from the bad at harvest time. He will make us pure and perfect in every way for His kingdom in heaven, burning away the poison of sin that corrupts. He will gather us up, each and everyone, for He sowed only good seed in his field. I need to keep that in mind the next time I am inclined to judge someone.