Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 (NRSV)
The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat
24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
This Sunday’s Gospel reading is a parable and its explanation. Even when Jesus explicitly explains their meaning, these little stories provide so much food for thought!
I was struck by the way the bad seeds were planted as the workers slept. They innocently took their rest as evil crept into their lives. The fact that they were not neglectful in their duties perhaps explains the sense of confusion that pervaded when the weeds appeared. I expect we can all identify with this bewilderment, for who among us has not been touched by an inexplicable evil? When we have done nothing wrong, the first instinct is to ask, “how did this happen?” We want to know the meaning and the cause of our suffering. We turn to the authoritative figures in our lives to provide some explanation. Reason and experience dictate that we should not be surprised when bad things happen, and yet we are.
Once blame is assigned somewhere, we want to take action. The workers wanted to rip out the weeds immediately. Just as the body naturally expels infection, we long to undo the effects of evil and to make the world right once again. Born for paradise, we suffer chronic discomfort in a world tainted by sin. It makes me think of how paedophiles who are being rehabilitated are hounded from town to town. People want to believe that their world can be free of danger and have to ignore the prompting of reason that reminds them that these people have to live in someone’s neighbourhood. It’s not that I don’t emphathise with a parent who wants to protect their child, but moving our suffering along to someone or somewhere else like this is an example of how we cling to the belief that our world was meant to be safe even though it is undoubtedly impossible to achieve this.
Of course, in this parable Jesus says that the Kingdom people must live alongside the weeds until the harvest. The forces and effects of evil aren’t going anywhere. We all knew that, didn’t we? But perhaps it’s helpful to be reminded. The reality is that weeds compete for water, light and nutrients, and they certainly have negative effects on the growth of the good seed. The people of the Kingdom are every day damaged by evil. However, just like the seeds, they also learn to fight back, to grow around the circumstances and to live in opposition to evil in astonishing ways. In compensating for the presence of some threatening force, new and different growth can occur and it always helpful to take stock of what we have learnt through our trials, as well as what we have suffered.
A day of judgement and justice will come as the harvest metaphor indicates. The idea is as challenging as it is comforting. Yet, that deep-seated desire for justice within us all, the same impulse that always produces a fresh sense of shock and revulsion when we hear yet another horrendous story of evil, that desire for justice must rejoice at the thought of a just judge.
My final thought is to recommend that you have a peep at the verses omitted in the middle of this reading. Jesus tells two more parables about the growth of the Kingdom of God using key images of the mustard seed and yeast. We may feel as though the good Kingdom people are few in number, but we should not underestimate their ability to grow and spread. Weeds do grow abundantly with ease, but flowers and good crops have not become extinct just yet! They can be surprisingly hardy too. In your disappointment that some enemy has sabotaged your hopes and plans, don’t forget to delight in the fact that the good seed has kept on growing too.
Emma Rothwell currently divides her time between the Church of Ireland Dioceses of Meath & Kildare where she is the Diocesan Youth and Children’s Officer and Wilson’s Hospital School where she is the School Chaplain.