Matthew 13:24-43, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“…if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest…” (Matthew 13:29-30).
I read our Gospel today, and I remember the spicy surprise that met a Jesuit who transplanted sprigs of basil beside some sili. After a few weeks, the basil was not just basil anymore. It had acquired a peppery flavor and required a new name: ba-sili.
Scientifically, this incident provides too small a sample size for any conclusion, but our Scripture today prompts me to ask, “Should we let the weeds grow with the wheat?” What if the weeds change the wheat? Why let the bad mix with the good?
One might attack this differently and counter, “What if the wheat changes the weeds?” Maybe the good can influence the bad and make everyone better. But for this possibility, should we be willing to risk the bad just turning everything worse? Why let the bad mix with good?
Five chapters after our Gospel today, Jesus will say, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea… If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” (see Matthew 18:6-9). In the body that is our community, if a member leads others to sin, should he or she not be cut off? Why sacrifice the saint for the sinner? Why let the bad continue to mix with good?
Why should we let the weeds grow with the wheat? To answer this, let us look at the two other parables in the longer version of our Gospel today.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, Jesus says. It is the smallest of seeds, but it becomes the largest of plants. The dramatic change in size is what we usually focus on in this parable, and so we miss an important detail about the mustard bush: “the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches” (Matthew 13:32). It is not just the doves and the pigeons and the other gentle and beautiful birds that come. One can imagine crows and ravens – aggressive and not as aesthetically pleasing avian creatures – coming and dwelling as well. Jesus makes no distinctions. All are welcome. And when birds of paradise perch with vultures – as when wolves and lambs feed together in Isaiah’s vision – then the kingdom of God is in our midst.
Why let the weeds grow with the wheat? Because that is how God envisions his kingdom.
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour. Scholars say that three measures equals fifty pounds. That is a lot of flour! Again, the contrast between the pinch of yeast and the mountain of flour makes us miss an important detail: the woman kneading the yeast in. She wrestles with the dough. (Can you imagine yourself elbows deep in fifty pounds of flour and the I-don’t-know-how-many liters of water needed to make it dough?) There can be bread enough for a banquet only because there is a woman who painstakingly labors.
Why let the weeds grow with the wheat? The saint and the sinner come together in the kingdom of God, and our Lord, the Master Baker, continues to work on them because this is how he prepares a feast.
That the weeds are allowed to grow with the wheat – this is Good News for us! Many times, we are not the purest and finest wheat. Many times, we are the weeds strangling those around us, competing for what we think are limited resources when in truth, God’s mercy abounds. God allows us weeds to grow without making distinctions as we sprout out of the ground. God works on us and kneads his grace into us.
If this is how God deals with us, then it should also be how we deal with others around us. Have we let weeds into our lives? Or have we cultivated friendships only with those we know do not come with thorns and only with those we know will bear good fruit? Do we continue to gently massage even just the pinch of yeast we possess into our relationships with others so that we can all slowly rise together? Or overwhelmed, have we just given up on people?
The time for the harvest will come, when stubborn weeds who refuse God’s grace will be pulled up and burned. But the pulling up and the burning will not be our task. That will belong to God. Who is this God? Read again Wisdom 12:13-19, our First Reading today, and get to know him as the master of might who judges with clemency and governs with lenience. Encounter him as the father who gives his children good ground for hope because he allows us to repent. Learn to trust him as the teacher who by his own deeds imparts the important lesson that “those who are just must be kind.”