THE GOOD AND THE BAD
Wis 12:13, 16-19; Rom 8:26-27; Matt 13:24-43 (13:24-30)
Last week, we began treating the parables of Jesus (as found in the Gospel of Matthew) by examining the parable of the soils. Today, we are looking at three different parables which Jesus uses in describing the Kingdom of God. The first parable is that of the Wheat and the Weeds. The second parable is about a mustard seed. In the third, Jesus compares the Kingdom of heaven with yeast. Through these parables, Jesus adds another dimension to our understanding the work of spreading the gospel message.
- THE PARABLE OF THE WHEAT AND THE WEEDS
In this parable Jesus tells us that we need to be aware that as we sow the seed of the gospel we will not only have to deal with different soils, we will also face opposition. The parable is straightforward. A man sows seed in his field. While the owner and the workers sleep, the enemy sows weeds among the good seed. (This was a practice some people used in destroying their enemies). The weeds and the seed grow together and when the weeds are discovered the workers want to go and pull them out immediately. The owner, realizing that the roots of the weeds are intertwined with the roots of the wheat, tells them not to pull the weeds because he does not want to destroy any of the wheat. The workers are instructed to wait until the harvest when it is easier to separate the wheat from the weeds. The weeds are all gathered together and used for fuel for the fire. Now, when requested for by his disciples, Jesus give us the full explanation of this parable in verses 36 to 43. There are certain important lessons to be learnt from this parable:
- a) Satan is at constantly work: In explaining this parable Jesus tells us that “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.” (13:37-39). While our Lord is working to bring people into the Kingdom, Satan is actively working to keep them out. We must never forget that there is a battle being waged that we do not see with naked eyes. Paul reminds us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12). St. Peter also sounds a strong warning note to all followers of Christ, whom we are: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy, the devil, is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
As we seek to live for the Lord, the devil is actively seeking to de-rail us. As we try to share the gospel with others the Devil is going to try to frustrate our attempts. Satan is shrewd. He does a great job getting people to overlook him. Frequently, people do not give serious consideration to Satan because they see him as a cartoon character with horns and a pitchfork, who looks sinister but seems harmless. We often wave off the idea of a devil because many people seem to just “use” Satan as a way of sidestepping their responsibility. They excuse their behaviours by blaming the demon of lying, the demon of cheating, the demon of gluttony, etc. Overlooking the Devil is a serious mistake.
Satan grinds away at the weaknesses in our character. If our weakness is envy, he will constantly point out what others have that we deserve. If our weakness is lust, he will continue to tempt us with impure thoughts and opportunities to feed the lust within us. If we are having a problem with forgiveness, the Devil will remind us of the hurts that another person has caused us. The Devil exploit our weaknesses.
Satan’s chief tactic is to counterfeit that which is good. Why did the workman not notice the weeds earlier? Note: Satan comes at night and, while everyone is asleep, sowing tares, a kind of weed very similar to grain. As it begins to grow the weed looks very similar to wheat. It is only when the wheat begins to develop its head that the weed becomes evident. The weeds camouflage their presence. That is how Satan works. Scripture tells us that Satan loves to masquerade as an Angel of Light (2 Cor. 11:14). In other words, he loves to pretend to be something that he is not. And he loves to plant those in the world who look very similar to the real thing, in order to lead people astray. The Bible warns us to beware of: False Christs or False Saviours (Matthew 24:4-5); False Apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13); False Ministers (2 Corinthians 11:14-15); A False Gospel (Galatians 1:6-12); False Prophets (2 Peter 2:1); False Doctrine (Hebrews 13:9); False Miracles (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12). In Matthew 7:22 we are told that some unbelievers succeed in casting out demons, prophesied and performed miracles. Satan always has his agents in our midst.
- b) We must not panic: At one point in the parable, the servants/workers appear at the scene. They look quite likeable because they represent us. Their reaction—a mixture of astonishment and bewilderment in finding the presence of the weeds—is what we experience when we realize the existence of evil in the world, in the nation, in the Christian community, in the family, in other persons. Their reaction ushers in the central message of the parable: their passion for the cause of good involves them to the point of proposing a reckless action. They have no hesitation; they want an immediate and strong intervention. (They sound like the I.R. in the Cameroonian armed forces.)
The owner, on the other hand, does not lose his control; he keeps calm. He is not surprised at the incident. He does not share their restlessness. The perspective of God is represented in his answer (which occupies more than a third of the story). In this world, good and evil are not separated. they are destined to grow together until the end. The owner of the field knows that there are weeds in his field. He knows that those weeds could poison the wheat if they were mixed but he also knows that any inappropriate action will do more harm than good.
The problem to which Christ’s parable was originally addressed concerned not the world as a whole but the People of God. Some people were scandalized that sinners were included among them. People like the Pharisees believed the Church should consist only of so-called good people. Sinners should be ruthlessly weeded out. But Christ did not agree. He says the Kingdom of God is a mixed bag in which sinners and saints rub shoulders. No attempt should be made to weed them out. His reasons for adopting this attitude are important for us today.
The suggestion to root out the weeds would seem to make a lot more sense, and indeed it has often been tried. Saul tried to weed out Christians from all of Palestine, before he became Paul. Hitler tried it on the Jews all over Europe. Stalin tried it on his enemies. The Hutus and the Tutsis tried it on each other in Rwanda and Burundi in the 1990’s, the Bokoharam are trying it out on Christians and others in Northern Nigeria, Northern Cameroon, and Southern Tchad, etc. Though attractive, it is not a Christian solution. It is not even a humane answer to the problem.
We too often act like the Pharisees. A person makes a serious mistake or commits a wrong against us, and we immediately rush to judgement. We play God. We categorize and cut off that person forever. But this is wrong. The time for judgement has not yet arrived. The Kingdom of God is still at the growing stage. Now is the time for conversion. People can change!
Another reason why the weeding out process is not ongoing is this. The world is not so simple, nor are people so simple. There is no line which we can draw that would neatly divide off the good from the bad. Any such line would go right through each human heart, for there is good and evil in every heart.
So what should we do? As far as we ourselves are concerned, the best thing we can do is take a good look into the field of our own lives to see what is growing there. If we find some weeds there, as no doubt we will, there is no law against pulling them out. If we try to do so, we will discover what a painful process this is.
As far as others are concerned, we should try to act towards them as Christ did. This is the message of the 1st Reading of today: Our God is a God who always forgives the repentant. “He judges with clemency, and with much lenience he governs us” (C.f. Wisdom 12:19). Is it not strange that the man who had no trace of weed in him (Jesus himself) could be so understanding towards those who failed to measure up, and so reluctant to weed them out? Why, for instance, did Jesus not weed out Judas whom he knew would betray him? And why did he not weed out Peter, who denied him not once but three times? He did not weed out Peter because he knew that he was not so much evil as weak. He saw the weeds in his life, but he saw the wheat too. He knew that with encouragement the wheat would prevail. And it did. God gives us a long rope to pull, plenty of time to repent and become good people. For “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7). We should always remember that, ‘God’s ways are not our ways!’ (Cf. Isaiah 55:8)
- c) Evil doers will not triumph for ever. The delay in pulling off the weeds is not to be mistaken! The owner had no intention of leaving the weeds among the wheat forever. As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. (Matthew 13:40-43)
We should not make the fatal mistake of taking God’s restraint for approval of evil. We should not even see it as God being UNABLE to deal with evil. God is waiting until judgment when those who are His will not be hurt. There are many people in the world today who do not like or believe in the Biblical teaching on judgment and Hell. But today’s parable of the weeds and wheat make it clear that a day of judgment is coming. In fact, a number of the parables we are going to look at in the coming weeks will focus on this issue of judgment.
There are also many people who believe that everyone will go to Heaven in the end. Far from it! That is not what Jesus taught. Some people believe that when you die, you die! That’s it! There is nothing more! The resurrection of Jesus proves that that notion is false. Judgment IS coming.
- THE PARABLES OF THE MUSTARD SEEDS AND YEAST
The second two parables Jesus shares in today’s gospel passage are about the humble beginnings of the Kingdom of God. The first is about a mustard seed (Mt 13:31-32). Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed: it starts small, but will grow into something massive—something that is steadfast, immovable, and benefits those around it. He also compares the Kingdom of Heaven to yeast (Mt 13:33). Yeast is something that is familiar to anyone who has ever baked bread. It is the magic that makes bread so delicious. Yeast is a tiny fungus that thrives on sugars. As it consumes sugar it releases carbon dioxide. And when yeast is introduced into dough, it begins to break down sugar in the dough and the carbon dioxide it releases causes the dough to rise, making the resulting bread light, airy, and delicious!
Jesus is saying that just as a tiny organism like yeast can have such a profound impact on something as large as a family-sized amount of dough, so the Church can and will have a profound impact on the world. It can, and should, change the world from the inside out. The process is slow and almost unnoticeable, but that does not mean it is not working. Jesus is encouraging his followers not to give up, even when we feel overwhelmed, or even when it seems like our best efforts are getting little results. He wants us to remember that just like the mustard seed and yeast, small things can eventually make a huge impact.
These two parables remind us of the power we have at our disposal. They tell us that we can have a tremendous impact on the world around us even when it does not seem like much is happening. Often, that impact happens a little bit at a time, but when we look back we can see just how much God has used us. However, that only happens if we are faithful to God.
Farming entails lots of hard work. Good crops do not just happen. Good harvests only come as a result of doing the right things and putting in the right effort ahead of time. Jesus reminds us that there is coming a harvest someday soon. Therefore, we should do what is needed NOW to ensure that we will not be disappointed on the DAY OF GOD’S HARVEST.