There is a verse in our first reading from the Book of Wisdom that calls to mind the parable of the wheat and the weeds in today’s Gospel. The verse reads: “your sovereignty over all makes you lenient to all.” This is the way Jesus presents God in the parable he tells in the gospel. Jesus’ God is a God of leniency, a God of patience, a gardener God who is confident of the development of a tiny seed. Jesus shows us a God who, in the words of the first reading, gives ” your sons the good hope that after sin you will grant repentance.” As Pope Francis says God never tires of forgiving us — it’s just we who tire of asking.
So, what about the parable of weeds among the wheat? Jesus lived in an agrarian society, so it isn’t surprising that he used farming metaphors as concrete images to explain the mysterious nature of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of heaven is like someone who has sowed good seed, yet an enemy has come and sowed weeds among the wheat. Jesus is quite specific about explaining what is happening in the story, but what are the implicit values transmitted to those who have ears to listen?
The kingdom of heaven is messy and complicated and will encounter opposition. In fact, evil exists in the world, and may not be easily rooted out. As the householder wisely advises his slaves, it is not a good idea to pull out the weeds, for their roots are entangled with the wheat and pulling them out will damage the crop. Jesus explains that at the end of the age, the angelic reapers will collect the weeds and throw them into the fire, while the wheat will be gathered into God’s kingdom.
We wonder, along with the servants in the story, where these weeds came from. ‘Let’s root up all those weeds! In another passage of Scripture Luke 9:54 the disciples of Jesus say: “Let’s burn up those cities which won’t welcome you! Let’s put them right and show them who’s boss! Let’s have the kingdom now!’ But Jesus says to them in effect: ‘Wait! Let God be God! Let the wheat and the weeds exist for now side by side! Wait till God is ready to start the harvest and sort things out!’ Be like God, be patient, and wait!’ We ask too why does God allow evil to grow in God’s kingdom? What can we do about it?
Scholars tell us that the weeds in the parable are likely darnel, a weedy grass that looks like wheat until it matures. While the plants in the field are young, the good wheat and the invasive weeds are indistinguishable and intertwined. Then the heads of the wheat droop over, while the heads of the weeds stand up straight. The image is of humility and pride. Is it up to the humble, true followers of Jesus to identify and destroy their proud, hypocritical neighbours? Is the destiny of wheat and weed fixed, or is there a possibility of redemption? There is a difference between weeds and people. We might argue that weeds are weeds forever, while people, if not torn out by the roots, might be redeemed by God’s grace. We cannot be certain who is good and who is evil.
In the parable, the householder says, “In gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest.” He counsels patience and faith in God’s justice. It is important not to damage the roots of the wheat. A good steward must do what is best for all, even if the weeds will survive in the short term.
What does this narrative tell us about the values and culture of the storytellers?
• We acknowledge the presence of evil in the world,
• While evil may be redeemed, that redemption may not happen in this world,
• It is not our job to judge, and
• We believe in God’s judgment at the last day.
Does Jesus’ parable encourage passivity? Or is Jesus offering guidance on how to live in a complicated world? While we wait for God to judge at the last day, how are we to live? Knowing that evil seed grows, that evil roots are allowed to flourish, how are we to live?
Through the parable of the weeds among the wheat, Jesus reminds us that we live in a hostile world, that good and bad are intermingled, that we must live cooperatively for the good of all, and that we ought to leave judgment to God. We are to concentrate on growth in our relationship with God and God’s creation – all of God’s creation including what is evil. By the work of our hands, motivated by the love of God resident in our hearts, bit by bit we reveal God’s love to those who do evil which they believe is good for them. To live in the presence of a just God who meets us where we are, who is with us and will keep us, wherever we go. We become standard bearers who are not overbearing. We are welcoming and inclusive!