When our kids were small, I worked a second job to help pay for diapers and baby shoes. I worked the night shift. Let me tell you, you meet a lot of characters working those hours. It is really a fascinating subculture.
One of the people I became friendly with was a young married guy who was studying to be a Greek Orthodox priest. The wee hours of the night seem to encourage deep thoughts, so even though at that time in my life I was not very religious, we had some good discussions. He once told me that the parables in this section of Matthew – the parable of the sower we read last week and the parable of the weeds among the wheat from this week – were for him amongst the most difficult and disturbing of all of Jesus’ parables. All these years later I am beginning to see why.
In the parable of the weeds and the wheat, I am surprised by the nonchalance, almost the negligence of the householder. When told an enemy has spread weeds among his wheat, he decides to do- -nothing.
In my garden, weeds compete with crops for sun, water, and fertilizer. Weeds engender more weeds. In my garden, I pull the weeds. Not God, the landowner of this parable. ‘Let them grow’ says God.
What makes this parable difficult for me is the Jesus makes the co-existence of good and evil part of God’s kingdom. In this parable the weeds share the sunshine, the rain, the goodness of the soil equally with the fruitful plants as God’s kingdom grows.
If we want to be faithful servants of God and produce a fruitful harvest, it appears we must be ready to live alongside the weeds. The point of the Christian life is not to separate ourselves into weed and wheat , but to stand in radical solidarity with everyone as God’s fellow creation. This is how we are to imitate Jesus, who called forth and sat down to dinner with tax collectors, saints and sinners. Wheat and weeds, growing together in the kingdom.
We stand in solidarity because we ourselves are made of both wheat and weeds. Since the Fall, good seed and weeds have co-existed in the human soul. The good seeds of faith, justice, kindness, and repentance. These always bear good fruit. But at the same time there are the weeds – the lies spread deep inside us by the enemy. Unrelenting pride that puts our will over His. The tendency to be judgmental, to better ourselves at the cost of others, tendencies to unkindness and prejudice. God seems to think that despite the presence of evil and sin the good seed in us will not be prevented us from growing and becoming fruitful.
There is a sharp contrast between the impatience of the servants and the patient waiting of the owner of the field. God sees much better than we do the dirt and the weeds, but He also sees the seeds of good and waits with confidence for them to mature. While we are always in a hurry to complete our plans, God waits with great patience and forbearance. God delays the day of judgement for our benefit.
Its is useless, less than useless, for us to assign labels of wheat and weed. God did not create anything evil. No one is predestined to remain a weed. What we perceive as weeds may, in God’s plan, turn out to be wheat. We need only to think of St. Paul who as Saul opposed the kingdom but after his conversion became one of the kingdom’s greatest apostles. We can say the same about many of the Saints whose life story includes some very ‘weedy’ beginnings. So it may be that we need to stop making distinctions. God’s ways are not our ways.
In a similar way, what we see in ourselves that looks a weed may turn out to be a gift; what we intend to be fruitful may in the eyes of God be a weed. We are not to judge, not even ourselves. As Paul wrote in our second reading today, “The one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit”. It is God who searches hearts.
The kingdom of God is still growing; the harvest is not yet here. While we live here on earth, the kingdom grows with fruitful plants alongside the weeds. It is our task to be fruitful. We can’t afford to waste time judging; we cannot know the destiny that God has in mind. The time will come, at the harvest, at the end of the age, when our merciful, abundant and patient God, who sends his light and grace on all equally, will summons the harvesters. Until then it is our task to share what we freely receive in solidarity with all.
I don’t remember everything that my Greek Orthodox priest friend and I discussed, or why this parable was so difficult for him. I do know that the more I ponder it the more unsettled I feel. It challenges me to expand my understanding of God’s greatness and how little we really know of his loving plan. Unsettling. I guess that is the purpose of a parable.