Matthew 13:24-43, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The message of the Gospel today seems difficult and demanding. We need to live with the “weeds” in our lives. In the so-called “fields” of our hearts, and of our lives, God has sown good seeds, and they grow to be good, productive wheat. But in these same fields, the “enemy” has sown weeds. And both wheat and weeds grow and thrive together. The fruitfulness of wheat and the obstruction of weeds, together in the same field. And God tells us, let them be together until harvest time when the weeds will be collected and burned, and the wheat will be stored.
The metaphor of wheat and weeds is thought provoking. The wheat in our lives are the good things, those that make our lives truthful, beautiful, productive, healthy, abundant, generous. In this difficult era of the pandemic, we see this in ourselves, when we trust and hope that things will be better, when we extend help to others who are having a difficult time. It is seen in the heroic efforts of those who give their lives for others, our front liners, those who share resources with the poor, leaders who are ever ready to sacrifice in order to help their constituencies.
The weeds, on the other hand, are the “bad” things. They co-exist with the wheat, and they are sown by the evil one in our hearts and in our world. We experience the weeds, perhaps, when we are selfish and self-centered, when we give in to temptations that tend to hurt and oppress others, or when we choose to be bad, when we can do good. In the world, in this pandemic, the weeds can be seen in those who take advantage of the crisis to serve their self-interests and ambitions, those who curtail the freedom of people, those who want more power not for service, but for personal advancement.
This parable of wheat and weeds is thought provoking because the Gospel says that they co-exist in our lives, and that they need to stay there until “harvest time,” another metaphor for the end times, or when we die, or when we move on to eternal life. The Gospel says that the weeds need not be uprooted now, and that they be allowed to grow, along with the wheat, till harvest time, when the weeds will be separated and burned.
What does this say about how to manage the wheat and weeds in our lives? How do we deal with the light and darkness, our good and bad qualities, our wholeness and brokenness, the virtues and vices that we all have, the so-called best and worst versions of our selves, our inconsistent behavior, our erratic nature, our wretched sinful selves? In our world, how do we deal with injustice, with abuse of human rights, with arrogant power that oppress and dominate, with forces that destroy the environment?
The Gospel provides answers. First, courage. Let the wheat grow, amid the weeds that hinder them. The wheat need to distinguish themselves from the weeds, rise above them, strongly and steadily, and learn how to thrive and bear fruit amid the disturbance of weeds. This is like saying: be strong in virtue; fight as much as you can the temptations, vices, tendencies that hinder you; recognize them and be patient with them; name and tame them; live our lives fully, prosper, and bear fruit. Also, with the weeds in society, learn how to deal with them, even fight them; assert what is good and right, not to be stifled by the bad, the wrong, and the ugly. All these require grit, courage.
Second, trust. Trust the Master of the field. Trust that He will facilitate your growth and fruitfulness. We are God’s works-in-progress. And we trust that He will manage the weeds in His own way, at His own time. That He will see us through. As the First Reading says, God’s ways, His might and power, are amazing. In the Psalms, we sang, Lord, you are good and forgiving. In the Second Reading, God comes to the aid of our weakness: “the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” We therefore trust God’s timing and God’s power as we are invited constantly, in mystery and wonder, to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”
Third, hope. Wait patiently in faith, hope, and deed. The weeds may choke us, perplex us, destroy us. Dark clouds of deceit fill the world today, and sometimes we feel that the enemy is winning. Deep within ourselves, we grapple with our inconsistencies, our lack of integrity, our miserably broken selves. How we wish all these can easily be pulled, plucked, and weeded out of our lives, extinguished from our existence. But they cannot and would not, and we are asked by the Gospel to learn how to live with them. This demands tremendous patience and trust, acting in faith, resisting complacency and despair. At harvest time, the Gospel says, the weeds will be collected and bundled for burning, and the wheat will be gathered and stored at the barn. “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” This gives us hope. This gives us perspective that it is the Kingdom that we are destined for. And that our lives on earth, on the fields of our lives, with productive wheat and destructive weeds – these prepare us for this final destination. It is the barn of God’s goodness and peace – His home, our future home – that we are preparing for.
Courage, trust, and hope. Ultimately, we are called to live our lives and mission fully, productively; strive to be good, and struggle against sin; work patiently and humbly, with hope and faith in God, the Master of the field and Lord of the harvest, trusting His power, His love, His abiding grace.
Jesuit scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ, captures this challenge through this written piece, called “Patient Trust”:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ (1181-1955)
*image from the Internet