The Wheat and the Weeds

Sixteenth Sunday of the Year. Wis 12:13.16-19; Rom 8:26-27; Mt 13:24-43

One of the unique characteristics of the parables of Jesus Christ is their economy. By ‘economy’, I mean that in a very simple, memorable story, Jesus communicates a miraculous wealth of ideas. In today's parable of the wheat and the weeds, Jesus provides the key to the interpretation. In summary, the sower of the good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed means the sons of the kingdom, the weeds are the sons of the evil one, the enemy is the devil, the harvest is the end of the world and the reapers are the angels. The evildoers will end in the furnace of fire and the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Notice how many ideas Jesus affirms in one compact parable. In just a few words, he affirms the existence of the Father and the Son, angels, judgment, the devil, the end of the world, heaven and hell. Yet this is only the beginning of its fruitfulness, and in today's brief homily I want to draw out three further lessons from this parable.

I think the first and most important lesson of this parable for our own lives is that we ought to take Jesus' words seriously if we want to be happy. Notice how Jesus does not give a third option: every human being ever conceived will, sooner or later, be reckoned as either wheat or weeds, destined for either heaven or hell. Furthermore, the wheat is not pulled back out of the barn and nor are weeds pulled out of the fire. In other words, once we have reached our final destination, there is no return. Any period spent in purgatory after death is for the cleansing and reparation of the sons of the kingdom, not for the weeds. So if we are to become wheat, the time for change is now, while we are still alive - a period of time which is so short it is like the point of a needle compared to the vast expanse of eternity. So if we have any interest in our own happiness, we ought to make our salvation, that is, being wheat rather weeds, the highest priority of our lives.

A second important lesson for our lives is that the wheat and the weeds are permitted to grow together, a point which gives an answer to one of the main objections to the Christian Faith. People often ask how God can exist or how God can be good if He allows so much suffering and death in the world. And this parable provides one answer to this question. The householder refuses to gather up the weeds in case the wheat is also rooted up. In other words, it is by God's mercy that evil is permitted to continue for a space of time. Judgment is suspended to allow us time to repent and be fruitful. But this situation is only temporary. Death, when it comes to us all, can be seen as an act of God's mercy. After the harvest, the wheat no longer has to endure the weeds and is gathered into the happiness of God's kingdom. And even for the weeds, it is a kind of mercy that their evildoing is brought to an end; evil deeds are not permitted to continue indefinitely. So present suffering and death are both expressions of God's mercy, no matter how strange that may seem to us in this passing world.    

A third lesson for our lives concerns the means by which the wheat comes to fruition. Some people believe that Jesus speaks in agricultural parables merely because he is speaking to farmers, but I think this is not real reason for his many references to agriculture. The point, I think, is that there is a great difference between manufacturing and cultivation. Our civilization has produced much remarkable technology such as spacecraft and the Internet, but there are many things that we simply cannot do. We can build a spacecraft but we cannot build an apple tree or an ear of corn. We can only grow these things. In his use of agricultural images, Jesus is, therefore, telling us something important about holiness. We cannot manufacture holiness; there is no magic formula by which we can create saints on a production line. We can only cultivate holiness, and we need some of the patience and other virtues of a farmer.

How then do we cultivate holiness? I think that there is no substitute for developing simple daily and weekly disciplines making use of the tools God have given us. While we are still alive we can make use of the sacraments, most importantly the Mass. While we are still alive, we can repent of sins and come to Confession on a regular basis - a good practice is to go to Confession at least once a month but we should all go at least once a year. While we are still alive, we can develop the disciplines of daily prayer, at least for a few minutes every day. While we are still alive, we can practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, strengthening charity and storing up treasure in heaven. While we are still alive, we can allow God to cultivate us and prepare us for his kingdom.

May God, in his mercy, cultivate us in this passing world so that we may all come safely to eternal life.

Fr. Andrew Pinsent, St. Mary Magdalene's Church, Bexhill, 20th July 2008

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