“The Kingdom of heaven may be compared to man who sowed good seed in his field.’ (Matthew 13:24) Last week we also heard of a man going out to sow. Then we heard that not all of the seed sown bears fruit. Now we hear that in amongst the good seed some darnel, a weed similar in appearance to wheat, has also been sown. Last week’s parable was about hearing and understanding the Word of God that has been sown in us, and the things that block us from hearing, and the things that can stop us from doing anything about what we have heard and understood. Today’s parable is about the problem of evil in our midst: “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” as the prophet Jeremiah put it. (Jeremiah 12:1). It can all be quite discouraging for those who listen and hear in the word a call to a narrower way. In most political campaigns these days there is usually a law and order component, the thrust of which is to lock up wrong doers for longer and harsher terms of imprisonment. Those who push that line are those who would ‘go and weed out’ the offenders from our midst. Jesus says to them, “No, don’t do that, because when you weed out the darnel, you might pull out the wheat with it. Let them both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time, I shall say to the reapers, First collect the darnel and tie it into bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn’.” (Matthew 13:29-30) Anyone these days who would push that line would be pilloried in the press as being soft on crime.
Yet when we look at Jesus’ reasoning, we can see that his is a concern for us good folk who have to live with criminals in our midst: because when you weed out the darnel, you might pull out the wheat with it. Jesus doesn’t want to lose even one of least of those who have heard and understand his word. In today’s world, heavy handed policing does violence in which some good people get hurt, and even killed, and it impacts disproportionately on the poor and marginalised whose great sin is that they are powerless. For Jesus, ‘collateral damage’ is unacceptable.
However, this parable has another point to make. This darnel, this false wheat, mimics the look and colour of wheat; it’s hard to tell them apart. And so, we who sit hear listening to this, when we do bad things, are we weeds or wheat? If we are weeds, we should be pulled out! But there are probably a hundred and one reasons we could give as to why we did what we did and which show that, despite appearances, we really are wheat and should be given a second chance. Or, if it is someone near and dear to us who does wrong, how would we feel about them being pulled out? If they are young, we are likely to plead for mercy, wanting more time to see how they will turn out. Then again, when St Matthew wrote down this parable, his community was but a small sect whom others in the wider community opposed and wanted to weed them out from their midst. For us, weed or wheat can depend on our point of view; who is to determine It? It was too bad for those early Christians who were falsely accused of being weeds and so died in the various bloody persecutions that sought to eradicate them. The point is that it is hard for us to know who or what is really a weed. The parable recommends that we leave it to God, who is better able to judge, to work it out at harvest time, at ‘the end of the world’ (Matthew 13:39), and, rather than condemn, learn to live with, and even care for, someone who is a little different to us and even a little difficult to live with — they may well tune out to be the finest of wheat in the end!
Jesus told some other parables that bear in on all of this. The reason why law and order campaigns work is that we can feel overwhelmed, threatened even, by the evil in our midst, and it can leave us feeling helpless: What can I do? Voting for those who are tough on crime can make us feel powerful, and so we do. But we don’t need to be powerful to have a big impact. (C.f.: Matthew 20:26) The parable of the mustard seed tells us that even the smallest seed can produce very significant results. (Matthew 13:31-32) Presumedly, we are of those in the good soil, those who have heard God’s word and understood it, and so are living a life well lived. But the fruit we are to bear starts off small — like one act of love, one time of kindness, one moment of courage … toward ourselves as much as others. In time we may become courageous enough to be kind and loving towards all whom we meet. And over time, we don’t know what impact each of our little act of kindness and love will have on the world around us. It might well be that one small seed that God is sowing, that has another has seen and understood, and so has turned away from his or her waywardness and gone on to produce a fine harvest of good wheat — and we may never know. (C.f.: Mark 10:21) When our little acts of kindness are united with those of others in even a small loving community, their witness value is magnified (John 13:35) and are able, then, to affect a great many beyond measure, which is the point of the parable of the yeast. (John 13:35) We should note that this parable is one of the few instances where God at work in our world is portrayed as a woman.
In these parables, I find myself tremendously encouraged. For, as I look at them, I have come to see that we, like all the others who hear the word, have to endure times of trial that try us, and from time to time the cares of the world press in on us, too, and we have to put up with those who are always doing their best to discredit what we hear; we all could just as easily be numbered among those who hear the word and it comes to nothing. In some senses, it doesn’t matter where God’s potent word falls; in the circumstances of our life, despite unpromising and faltering beginnings and with much stumbling and falling along the way, if we but hold firm to that which plants a joy, a warm glow, in our hearts (Hebrew 3:6; Matthew 13:29. C.f.: Luke 24:32), we can all go on to bear a rich harvest. Jesus finishes his explanation of the parable of the darnel with the words: “Listen, anyone who has ears.” (Matthew 13:43. C.f.: Rule of St Benedict Prologue:1) That’s all we need do, all that makes the difference; nothing is predetermined: seed sown on unpromising soil can produce a crop, and seeming weeds can turn into wheat, if we but listen and hear the word. It all reminds of Benedict’s words in the Prologue to his Rule. After having us listen to God’s word, Benedict goes on, “With this conclusion, the Lord waits for us daily to translate into action, as we should, his holy teaching. Therefore our life span has been lengthened by way of a truce, that we may amend our misdeeds. As the Apostle says: Do you not know that the patience of God is leading you to repent? And indeed the Lord assures us in his love: I do not wish the death of a sinner, but that he turn back to me and live.” (Rule of St Benedict Prologue:35-38) “Listen, anyone who has ears.”